Over the last two decades, our understanding of addiction and recovery has exploded. In days gone by, addiction was regarded as a set of poor choices, or a sign that person lacked responsibility or morals. Today, we recognize addiction as just one part of a bigger picture that often includes mental illness, chronic pain, trauma history, and any number of other factors.
Accordingly, most private rehab facilities have developed a holistic way of treating addiction that takes all of these elements into account. There is a heavy focus on addressing the problem that lies beneath the addiction.
The traditional treatment methods used in Indigenous communities take this one step further by incorporating the individual’s spiritual and cultural needs. The person with the addiction is recognized and valued not only as an individual, but as an essential part of the community they are part of.
In Canada, many instances of addiction in Indigenous people can be traced to a collective trauma that has been inflicted on the whole community: residential school abuse, murdered and missing Indigenous women, systemic discrimination in health care settings, and more. A traditional approach to recovery that focuses on all aspects of healing, from the physical to the spiritual, may not only be more appropriate, it can be more effective than Western-centric addiction recovery models.
Five Traditions Used In Aboriginal Addiction Treatment
In this article we will talk about some of the traditional methods used in Indigenous communities. This list is by no means exhaustive.
Sweat Lodge Ceremonies
A Sweat Lodge ceremony is a purification ritual whereby participants enter a dome-shaped structure that is heated by steam. The steam is generated from water being poured over hot rocks. During the ceremony, participants are guided through a series of prayers or songs, or they are taught about Indigenous history and traditions. The Sweat Lodge represents the womb of Mother Earth: it is a sacred place for participants to give thanks, and to ask for guidance, forgiveness, healing, and hope.
Some Sweat Lodge ceremonies are preceded by a fasting period, during which participants avoid food as well as unhealthy substances like alcohol and caffeine. The purification is physical, mental, and spiritual in nature. It can leave participants feeling physically cleansed and more strongly connected with themselves, their community, and their culture.
Being at one with the land is a central principle of Indigenous culture. Through colonization, Aboriginal communities have had their traditional lands taken away from them, and land-based healing provides a way for people to rediscover that connection.
For Indigenous people with addictions, land-based activity can be a critical element of recovery, because it meets an important cultural, traditional, and spiritual need.
Examples of land-based activities include the following:
- Traditional food harvesting that provides the opportunity to support the community while learning about nutrition
- Reconnecting with the land through ceremonial practices, learning about the history of the land, and traditional medicine gathering
- Culture and language camps that enable people with addictions to spend time on the land while they learn about and practice their cultural traditions
- People with addictions who are parents can benefit from traditional parenting and family activities
Traditional Plant-Based Medicine
Addiction can have far-reaching effects on the body and mind. For centuries, the Indigenous peoples have been using over 400 species of plants to treat ailments and symptoms ranging from chronic pain to insomnia. In many Indigenous communities across Canada, there are experts who are well-versed in the plants, how they work, and what conditions and symptoms they can be applied to. Not only can plant-based medicine alleviate some of the physical and emotional effects of addiction and withdrawal, this mode of treatment can offer yet another way for the individual to connect with their community and their traditions.
Traditional Indigenous medicine involves a lot more than simply giving someone a remedy. Aboriginal communities treat medicinal plants with a great deal of respect. Healers follow strict cultural protocols when it comes to the use of these medicines, and this includes acknowledgement of the plant’s service to humanity.
The Talking Circle provides a safe place for people to talk about whatever is in their heart and mind, without being questioned or interrupted. The session begins with prayer and/or smudging, and then a feather or talking stick is passed in turn from one participant to the next. The person holding the feather is encouraged to speak truthfully about whatever is on their mind. There is no room for judgment or criticism: the individual is simply given the space to share what they want to. When they are done, the talking stick or feather is passed on to the next person.
People sometimes become addicted to substances because for any number of reasons, they may have lost their way in life. Traditional fasting ceremonies are held for many reasons, one of which is to give people the opportunity to reflect and find their direction. It is a sacred ritual that can take many forms: fasters may be taken to an isolated spot, or they may undergo their fast in a fasting lodge or hut.
Most Western societies define fasting as a temporary cessation of eating, but it is so much more than that. It is a spiritual journey during which the person gains a heightened awareness of everything around them, from the natural world to the sky. By the time the fast ends, the person may feel closer to their spiritual being, and they may experience a sense of deep peace, as if their internal conflicts have been resolved.
Incorporating Traditional Indigenous Healing In Addiction Treatment
At Addiction Rehab Toronto, we have great respect for our client’s spiritual and cultural needs. We recognize the value of traditional healing practices, and we believe in the necessity of developing addiction treatment programs that are culturally sensitive.
In recognition of the fact that addiction treatment facilities are sometimes difficult for members of Indigenous communities to access, we offer expedited admission to our facility for our Indigenous clients. We will work with you to develop an addiction treatment program that includes Indigenous healing practices, in a way that is true to your physical, emotional, spiritual, cultural, and community needs. Give us a call today to find out more.