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Verna Bartlett

Lesson 3 – The Caretaker: Creating Relationships

Goal: Learn how to create new and healthy relationships.

Activity: Listen to Verna Bartlett’s story and review the information and questions presented in this lesson for self-reflection.  Use these links to access the available resources with this lesson:  Verna Bartlett’s Bibliography, Anger Information Sheet, Feelings Resource Sheet, and the Historical Trauma Resource Sheet.

In Lesson #1 and 2 we learned about the denial, self-esteem, and moments of changed.   In the Hero’s Journey, the orphan wanders and begins to ask questions.  The orphan begins to meet people along the way that offers pieces of information to help answer the questions.  At some point, there is an Elder that offers counsel and support.

Family affected by Alcoholism

Verna is honest about the alcoholism and hardships found in her family.  She speaks the truth of its effects on her family and Native American people:

“As a child, my family was dysfunctional. Alcoholism was rampant. She [Grandmother] was an alcoholic and a prostitute, and was murdered when she was 27. My brother was an alcoholic. He burned to death when he was 27 with two other Native Americans. Mama suffered from alcoholism. My father died at age 50 from alcoholism. It was all around me. And for anyone to be sober, or not fighting, or all the things I lived through, they were odd.

Native Americans weren’t made to drink alcohol or take drugs. Our body is allergic to all that. There’s nothing in that bottle. There’s nothing but sadness, sadness and bitterness and death and suicide and fights. I don’t know of any Indian that is bad until he starts drinking, taking drugs and doing all those things. I don’t know any bad Indians or a stupid Indian or a dumb Indian.  Innately, our people are intelligent. They all have a walk in life.” Verna Bartlett

Family affected by Domestic Violence

Verna’s mother’s boyfriend was the perpetrator of sexual abuse with her when she was seven (7) years old.  She states, “There was a lot of chaos by this man that took care of us, my brother and I. My brother has scars. We weren’t just beaten with a belt; we were beaten with the buckle end of the belt. And then this man just—what we call now, it’s grooming—groomed me to where, he would send my brother to punish him, he’d send him to his room telling him he’s not allowed to come out, and then he’d take me to his room. When I was seven years old I didn’t know what was going on. No one ever told me anything about sex or touching. So he had access to me from the time I was seven until I was eleven.” Verna Bartlett

Relations affected by Alcohol and Domestic Violence

Verna helps us to understand how living in a family with alcoholism and domestic violence affected her ability to have healthy relationships.  She shared openly of how it was growing up as a teenager:

“I didn’t let any boys around me. When I was sixteen and seventeen, I started dating, and I didn’t want anybody touching me, and in my own stupid way, I put straight pins around my bra to where if  you touched me, you got stuck with a straight pin. And boys thought I was crazy and I wouldn’t get close to them. I didn’t want that to happen again.” Verna Bartlett

She speaks of her first marriage:

“I got married and endured domestic violence to the point of where he beat me so badly, and I crawled back in a closet, and I had four babies, I was 24 years old, and I crawled back in a closet, so he couldn’t get to me, because he kept on following. I went way back in the corner. He went to work  in the morning, and I crawled out of there, my eyes were both closed, my cheekbone was fractured, my nose was broken.” Verna Bartlett

She speaks of the effects of fear and anger:

“I would attempt to kill people with a knife. Not people, men.” Verna Bartlett

New Beginnings and creating healthy relationships

Recognizing an Elder

The Hero’s Journey recognizes that Elders are there for us along our journey of life.  Verna shared of the inspiration she felt when hearing the Native American athlete Billy Mills speak about winning a gold medal at the Olympics.  The talk he gave on that day was important for Verna to feel hope about moving forward in her life.  He provided guidelines and support for her to start creating healthy relationships.

Developing community

Community is how we live.  In the Hero’s Journey, as relationship develops the wanderer learns to care more for the others than they do for themselves. This is a very important part of the journey for if they still only care for themselves, they won’t put themselves at risk and will not transform.  Verna speaks of developing relationships with others, becoming vulnerable in sharing her life story, and experiencing healing in community.

Beginning to care

Verna shared of becoming educated and learning to care again.  Several of her first jobs were with group homes of young people that shared her story.  She also began recognizing the growth and health in her own children, grand children, and great grandchildren.  Her experiences with her family and working with Native American youth supported her desire to continue developing healthy relationships.  As she continued her journey, these relationships became central for her in having a purpose.

“Now I’ve worked through four generations here since 1978 and they have no idea who they are, where they came from or where they’re going. They don’t know who their grandparents are. They don’t know about Native American culture. It’s coming back now little by little. The language has helped it a lot.

I’m one of the generations. My mother is one of the generations. Wandering out there in alcoholism, and death and murder and domestic violence, and thinking there’s no way out. There is a way out. There are people who have walked before you. Like I tell my children, my grandchildren, you don’t have to walk that road of alcoholism and drug addiction. That’s a bad, bad road. I said, Look at the scars I have. I have one here [points to chin], I have one here [points to upper lip], I have one up here [points to forehead], I have one on my neck.   I walked that road. I took all those beatings for you guys. You don’t have to walk that road no more. You know, go the other one to education, and the church, and do good things for other people. Don’t walk that same road that I walked.” Verna Bartlett

Learning new ways to communicate

Verna shares of the importance of learning new ways to communicate with people in her life.  She is a great example of how important it is to learn ways different from the ways that were modeled in her childhood.  As she grows and changes from the childhood abuse she has excelled in advocating for her people and learning about domestic violence in Native American people.  She has discovered astounding facts and figures that are difficult for many people to hear.  It is in this way that she discovered her own growth as her passions and healing path moved her forward to share honestly the information she was discovering.  As the information she was sharing and the manner in which she shared often resulted in others having difficulty hearing the message, Verna had to stop and re-examine how she creates relationships.

“At first I was angry. I was fired twice for calling people bad names. I called them hypocrites and phonies. And I was fired! I was fired twice so the third time, I said, “I’m going to go about it right. I’m going to walk the line. I’m not going to make any waves. I’m not going to bring it up, I’m just going to quietly walk my road, get my education, and present my education and my findings to the council and the people of the community and form a child abuse center.” Verna Bartlett

She related that there was another situation where there were strong feelings and communication was challenged.  She shared, “I told myself, this time I’m not going to call anybody a hypocrite. I’ll behave myself and I won’t say any bad words.” She continued to explain that she has been successful at creating relationships since this time.

Think about your life and answer the following questions to learn more of the importance of creating relationships in your healing.

  1. Do you have a family who has been affected by Alcohol, Drugs, and/or Domestic Violence?  If so, can you identify ways that this has affected your ability to have healthy relationships?
  2. How easy is it to be honest about emotions and feelings?
  3. Can you remember the experiences of your childhood and have you shared them with someone you trust?
  4. Have you met someone that has been inspirational and created hope for you?  Do you know have dreams for the future based on this person?
  5. Do you identify with a community of people? If so, who are they?  If not, what type of people can you relate with?  Please describe.
  6. Are there people in your life that you care about?  If so, why do you care? How do you try to connect with these people?
  7. Have there been people or situations in which you have difficulty communicating?  If so, why do you think this happens?  If so, what have you done to improve this communication?