Lesson 1 – The Orphan: Disconnection
Recognize disconnection within shared history
Survival Mode; Unhealthy state of Native people
School experience influences change
Activity: Watch Dean Azule’s interview on Video 1
Our elders have shared their life experiences, describing disconnection as it occurred in their personal lives and its effects to the direction of their lives. Many Native cultures are family focused with community support systems, since European efforts to assimilate Native people into European cultures our Native people have reacted with self destructive behaviors to self and family. These interruptions of cultural values, traditional lifestyles, and distortion of identity have created unbalanced worlds for many Native tribes and peoples throughout Indian Country. The results have become the accumulation of like stories with the same results; alcoholism, violence, unexplainable anger, loss of self, and abusers of immediate family members.
Dean Azule experience of disconnection is a familiar story shared by many Native people who were when removed from the custody of their parents who were using alcohol to cope with their problems. He also shares his experience of moving from the western lifestyle as an urban Indian to life on the reservation with his grand-parents.
Mine is not an isolated case. As I recall there were other uncles and aunts who did the same thing. They kind of dropped their kids off to be raised by the grandparents. The only difference between the other grandkids and me was that I was the oldest male, so I got the burden, the brunt of a lot of things that might go wrong when the grandparents were upset with the kids, they figured they would take it out on the oldest guy. And that’s okay I realize that there is a reason for that, that has to happen. But in the meantime along with my older cousins, my female cousins, I ended up helping raise all the other younger kids at the time.
Dean Azule-Gila River Pima
Dean tells of being ostracized by the children of his tribe for not being able to speak his Native language because his parents chose to prepare him to live the western lifestyle and his cultural experience of being the oldest of all the grand-children which he learned carried greater responsibilities to his family
He recalls seeing a red wagon which had been recognized as a toy while he lived in the city but on the reservation the wagon was used as a tool to transport water cans to retrieve water, a responsibility Dean inherited as the oldest male of the grand children. Conveniences like running water and electricity were not common on the reservation so Dean had to learn the ways of his grand-parents.
Removal from the care of his mother created a disconnection and interruption to his world as he stepped back into what was left of a traditional lifestyle and tried to find his place among the people of his tribe.
American Indian people have been in fight or flight activation since European invasion, many still perceive everything in their environments as threats to their survival. This survival mode state bypasses our rational mind, this is where many of our beliefs exist and we remain in an attack mode. This state of alertness creates stress on our internal and external health while we stay in survival mode. We use substances to relieve this stress or we eat foods that help to alleviate that stressful state and when we react or cope by using unhealthy substances our body is unable to function at its optimal level and eventually our diet becomes filled with foods that release serotonin so that we feel happy but we are just adding to unhealthy weight gain which leads to diabetes and obesity.
Under the stressful circumstances of our history many Native people are focused on short-term survival, not the long-term consequences of our beliefs and choices. Eventually we are unable to change our lifestyle or feel as though it is impossible to have a better life, but as we listen to Dean’s stories of his life and his battle with diabetes we can see that it is possible to get out of survival mode and begin living.
Dean was sent to catholic school at the age of eleven until he graduated and his experience wasn’t as traumatic as other elders who were forcibly removed from their homes by the United States government, Dean was still separated from his family and used alcohol along with his peers at school. One thing he views as a positive experience was his ability to read about all the things going on in the world outside of his village and his reservation, although his grand-parents sent him there to keep him out of trouble and hopes that religion would be his chosen path, he did not have the same ideas but it was during his stay at the school that he realized he wanted something more than what he was experiencing on his reservation.
One thing that the school did was that it opened up my eyes to a lot of things. I knew right off the bat that I did not want to go back and stay. I would always go back and visit. I don’t know that I ever really saw myself wanting to remain the rest of my life in the village and on the reservation. That’s not a put down, I just kind of felt like I wanted something better, something different, and I wasn’t going to find it there.
Our ancestors and elders faced very different forms of education when they were forcibly removed from their homes and sent to boarding schools and housed in closed military bases or ran by Religious sects who worked to acculturate and condemn our spiritual beliefs because they were contrary to values and worldviews of European cultures. Native people were forced to change their beliefs by use of disciplinary measures of physical abuse, starvation, and humiliation.
The abusive behaviors are mimicked in the ways our elders and ancestors disciplined our grand-parents and our parents and continue to be a part of current behaviors.
The interruption of our cultural practices have generated a survival mode response that has become intergenerational as we see our elders and family members using alcohol and drugs to cope with their personal and social problems associated with trying to be an American and a Native with contradictory values and beliefs the most integral aspects of having balance in our lives.
A survival mode pattern among Native peoples is being dealt with alcohol and drugs, the most accessible suppressants available that provides a temporary relief from the daily pressures of living as an American while trying to reconnect with our cultural values and beliefs in world that looks down upon people who do not seek the materialistic ideals of the “American Dream.”
Dean chose to seek something better, something different, something not found in the place he was at when he was a teen age boy. This need to find something better lead Dean into his next stage of his life’s journey. He left the world of his Native reservation to experience the world outside of his reservation back to a place where he might find answers to his questions, back to a place that contributed to his mother’s alcohol use.
Activity: Draw a picture that represents the two worlds you have to find balance in
Are there any other examples of how someone can have their lives interrupted and feel disconnected?
What does disconnection mean to you and your culture?
What may have been some reasons Dean’s mother used alcohol?
Why are family and community important for an individual to have?
How might we make changes in our lives to get out of survival mode?
If you were forcibly removed like our ancestors and elders were, what might you have experienced?
After listening to Dean’s interview of DVD 1 do you find any similarities to his story?
Do you see any similarities with the stories of your elders?