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Indian youth face higher rate of risk factors for mental health

To the Editor,

My name is Michael Crow; I am an enrolled member of the Lower Sioux Indian Community in Morton, Minn. I read the word HELP written on the palm of a young Cherokee woman.  That was brave. As someone who lived through complete hopelessness and know that things do get better, I feel compelled to share some thoughts.

I think there is value in learning statistics.  But it’s impossible for numbers to show the reality.  I was not concerned about youth suicide until I visited a friend in Crow Creek in 2001.  I asked her about an ambulance driving around the projects.  I thought someone found a deal and was using it for a car.  But then to my horror she told me it was in response to the kids killing themselves.  She took me to a local graveyard and showed me the fresh graves.  I didn’t know how to respond.

Ten years later I read an article in 2012, Native Youth in Crisis: Tribes grapple with a Suicide Emergency by Stephanie Woodard.  It forced me to reflect on my own journey.  I realized that I had spent the last ten years warring with my own thoughts of suicide.  Have survived and coming out of my own fox hole, the article reminded me that there were others.  I had to do something so I teamed up with Dr. Robert G. Owens, a friend from the University of Madison.  The result was an educational book called “Paper Buffalo: Spiritual Bankruptcy on an American Indian Reservation”.

I don’t believe there is anything added to the conversation when we suggest American Indian people are akin to caged animals living near poison.  I believe that type of thinking has the capacity to corrode our personal responsibility.  It implies that we lack the ability to choose right from wrong or the moral fiber to know chemicals are unwise.  I suspect a lot of smart Indian kids that refuse drugs daily might have a problem with that.

I understand the focus of reducing risk factors.  But what came first, the risk factors or the people perpetuating the risk factors?  Shouldn’t we look deeper? What do we mean by preventive care?  Are we talking about psychotherapy?  Are we accepting the ‘expert’ diagnosis that there is something wrong with the brain of our youth?  As someone that has spent the last eight years associating with professionals in the mental health field, I’ve witnessed their treatment methods and their efficacy. I can say that more psychiatrist on or near a reservation is not the solution. More than likely, you’d only see tribal members committed to security hospitals for perceived maladies.  Malady’s that mental health experts look to drugs to solve.

Psychiatry would bring more problems than solutions.  Their ploy is to hint at a problem and a solution, just enough so the client will return the following week for more “therapy”. If cornered, they admit that psychotherapy can’t help anyone, and claim the person himself has to be his own change.  Change that proves temporary once the pressure of the therapist is removed.

I like the fact that “75 percent of the rural counties of America do not have access to at least one practicing psychiatrist”. I do not say that lightly.  I believe psychological health is important.  When we think clearly, without fear, anger or lust, we can think of the wellbeing of others.

I think it’s important to know the entire story when asking for “expert” help.  Did you know that many of their professional forefathers were atheist? Freud set out to find replacements to the Creator and spirituality.  They will tell you that psychology is not a true science.  They have no way of testing their own theories in a lab.  Their studies on college students can be duplicated.  They will even tell you their own theories change every couple of years.  Read more about it in “Counseling” by Dr. John MacArthur.

Their preventive care includes the belief self-harm is due to poor socialization, environmental conditioning, failure to live up to potential and just bad behavior toward others.  They believe the solution is resocialization or reconditioning that can only be done by an expert. Others believe that a person has all the resources in himself or can find it in a group to solve his problems.

If we swallow the environmental conditioning theory; Indian gaming should have many of our problems.  My tribe was the first in Minnesota to foolishly believe this was the answer.  But a glance around Indian country reveals that gaming tribes also have children addicted to heroin and meth.

Contrary to psychology’s diagnosis of mental health issues on reservations, I believe it misdiagnosed and should be labeled a spiritual problem. I believe attempting to address a spiritual problem with psychotropic medication or psychotherapy is like treating a cancer patient with a warm sweater.  It’ll make them feel good, but it does nothing for the real problem.

So what is the answer? Let’s consider the possibility that it is a spiritual problem.  What do I mean by spiritual? I’m talking about our faith and peace with God, the Creator. I hope you’re sitting down for this one because this former Sun Dancer and AIM baby is talking about what the Bible says about our relationship with God. Don’t run.  This is something every adult should investigate. Why shouldn’t we be just as curious as any other race when we see a person’s life change after surrendering to Jesus?

Are you still reading? Did you know that many of our tribal elders took the time to investigate the Bible? Ask them, see what they tell you.  I’m not talking about a boarding school.  Any truthful reading of the New Testament will tell you that force and abuse has absolutely no place in Christian living (Ephesians 4:29-32).  Did you know that after eight years in a Florida prison, Geronimo spent his last days teaching Sunday school in Oklahoma?

The Bible tells us it is always going to be a spiritual problem (Romans 3:22-23).  Suicidal thoughts are just a symptom of a spirit that has no hop (Psalm 43:5). I struggled with these thoughts myself.  I was surrounded by poverty, trauma and caregivers who gave me the example of huffing spray paint.  I developed a lifelong habit at the age of six.  I blamed my family and my environment.  I’d say if Bill Gates grew up the way I did, he would have gone to prison too.  But I was honest with myself; there became a point when I was the one choosing to live the way I wanted to live, not my family or my community.

I’ve been doing a life sentence for the past eight years.  About halfway through I thought the answer was to leave this world and see what was next.  I cried out to Jesus and He responded.  At the age of 31, I heard that Christ died for me.  Every horrible crime I ever committed.  Today I have the Hope of eternal life.  I have peace because I surrendered.  I have meaning and purpose because I do His will.  And with my new freedom comes the responsibility to make healthy decisions.

In closing, its clear to me that our youth will continue to hurt themselves unless they are led by example. If we never considered Jesus a good role model, then maybe it’s our turn to investigate Him.  Find an English Standard Version of the Bible, read the Book of John.  Our youth should know that Jesus is good.  Regardless of home life, we can look to His character and imitate Him.  A holy, selfless, forgiving unconditional, gracious, understanding, sacrificial life.

To others who are asking for HELP, I’m writing to say that it does get better.  The world tells us we need material to be happy.  And I know how it feels to feel left out.  The world say MTV life should be our reservation life, but that’s a lie.  I know how it feels to think I’m missing out on something.  It was so easy to get into self-pity.  The truth is we all are struggling with a spiritual problem.  Our peace has to do with whether or not we humble ourselves before God the Creator.  He’ll do the rest.

Peace can come through a relationship with Jesus.  If we know Jesus, through the Bible, we know God.  Who doesn’t want to know the Creator?  Contact my friends at Grace to ask them about The Gospel According to Jesus. Grace to You P.O. Box 4000 Panorama City, California 91412.  If you would like to learn more about an alternative method of preventive care look for the books, Competent To Counsel by Jay Adams or Our Sufficiency in Christ by John MacArthur. 

Michael Crow
1111 Hwy 73
Moose Lake, Minnesota

(Michael Crow is an enrolled member of the Lower Sioux Indian Community of Minnesota.  He spent a third of his life incarcerated, including prison and eight years in an unconstitutional treatment program where he worked a lay deacon for two years.  He is the author of Paper Buffalo: Spiritual Bankruptcy on an American Indian Reservation and A Significant Relationship)





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