Martin High Bear on Addictions

Lesson 5 – The Changer: Cultural Dualism

Controversy continues whether non-Indians or mixed bloods have the right to participate in Native ceremony, but Uncle Martin guided people of all colors to return to their earth-based spiritual roots using Lakota ceremony.

— Martin High Bear


Understand that becoming sensitive to the issues of diversity promotes empathy, deepens self-awareness, and reinforces self-acceptance.


Identify thoughts and feelings that help propel a person toward self-realization and an addiction-free life.

The Changer

This role is referred to as the “magician” in the traditional hero’s journey; it’s a place of self-awareness. This is the stage where you realize you possess the strength and wisdom necessary to bring about change. These are qualities you had all along, but the act of the journey reveals them to you. This is a place of realization and revelation.

Historical Trauma:  Kill the Indian, Save the Man

As more and more European settlers moved onto Indian lands, the U.S. government rounded up tribal people and forced them unto reservations.  Once on reservations, the impetus behind many government policies was to make Indian people conform to the dictates of white society.  In exchange for their land and traditional ways of life, Indian people were expected to abide by unfamiliar customs, give up their Native languages, adopt nontraditional dress, renounce their spiritual beliefs and medical practices, and conform to a cash economy.  In time, federal intervention touched almost every aspect of Indian life.  Cultural practices had been disrupted, and in many minds, the assumption that Indians would eventually merge into the general population remained strong.  Reformers believed that the end of Indian ways was in the best interest of Indian people as well as the nation.

The injustices of the past have left their mark on the generations that followed.  Native peoples’ response to attempts by the federal government to assimilate them—to culturally absorb them into the majority culture—ranged from frustration to psychological destruction.  Many turned to alcohol and other addictions as a means to cope with alienation and the loss of cultural traditions and tribal identities

Self-Determination:  The Right to Choose

Assimilation as a government policy didn’t work.  Tribal persistence safeguarded many customs and, over time, a number of traditional ceremonies were successfully revived.

The movement of “self-determination” was popularized in the late 1960s.  Advocates of this movement argued that Indian people have the right to decide what aspects of the general society they incorporate into their lives and what traditional values and tribal practices they continue to embrace.

Cultural Diversity:  Adaptability and Healing

In my ceremonies, when I set up my altar, I work with four flags.  And these colors are the black, the red, the yellow, and the white—the four colors of people God created in the world.

-- Martin High Bear

Most people agree that persons who are denied their cultural-racial identity and are forced to conform to a separate, alien reality are leading diminished lives.  People recognize that trying to live in two cultural worlds may lead to frustration, confusion, anger, defensiveness, and despair.  Rejecting one’s heritage in favor of a “more acceptable” identity may also result in major dysfunction.

You can get an idea of what cultural dualism look like using a simple image; two circles that overlap halfway onto each other.  Label one Native Identity, the other Mainstream Identity.  The part where the two (or even more) circles overlap—the “middle”—is the Blended Self.   It represents an integration of the two identities, the part that recognizes and accepts elements of both.

Self-Realization:  A Path to Freedom from Addiction

The concept self-realization, like self-determination, is the right to see oneself as a healthy, fulfilled person.  Using the Circle analogy, think of the same overlapping circles, one labeled ADDICTION, one labeled ADDICTION-FREE.  Label the overlapping segment of the circles SELF-REALIZATION.

Self-realization is a process.  It relies on self-reflection and contemplation.  Many professionals believe that the human mind—our thoughts and feelings—is a significant factor in becoming healthy and staying disease-free.  The task is to decode the thoughts and feelings that structure a “reality” supporting addiction.  This approach encourages us to look deeply into the roots of addiction to understand the reality of its tragic impact on our lives and on the lives of our friends and family.

  1. List thoughts and feelings you associate with addictive behaviors.  Do these feelings have their origin in traumatic events?
  2. What feelings/thoughts are being masked by indulging in addictive behaviors?   If you peel away the false euphoria of alcohol or drugs, what would you see?
  3. What barriers need to be overcome to reduce a reliance on addiction?   Does the role of enabler or victim play a part?  Is serious illness or chronic pain helping to feed an addictive habit?
  4. Does the addiction provide a false sense of power or invulnerability?   What competing thoughts and feelings offer a more realistic sense of personal competency and balance?
  5. List some of the ways a person one can be proactive to engage in thought patterns, activities, and relationships that support and strengthen sobriety (non-addition).


Fulfilling the role of the Changer involves “showing the way” to others.  A Changer is a leadership role.  Martin High Bear and others like him chose to help others in their quest for change.  You can honor those people - and yourself - by being willing to share the lessons and stories of your life.  And doing so will help others in their journey.