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How Native American Tribes Are Addressing Addiction

Recently, we ran across a story on that attracted our attention. In a homepage expose, the news site shared a video and opinion piece about the Native American Penobscot Nation and how they are taking a unique approach to recovery. Amid the devastating opioid crisis, many of their tribal members have found themselves addicted and even arrested for various drug charges. To help combat the issue, elders within that group are going back to ancient rituals and finding some impactful results.


The article focused specifically on Gabe Stewart, a member of the nation and a victim of the crisis. His dependencies on opioids and heroin led to him facing felony charges in court. Stewart stole money, possessed dangerous narcotics and, initially, brought shame to his entire family. But thanks to his association with Penobscot, he was able to take part in a unique recovery probation program. One that ultimately rid him of his addiction and got his case dismissed.


Gabe’s path to sobriety came via the Healing To Wellness Court, which is associated with Penobscot. By agreeing to this program, he allowed representatives to perform regular unplanned drug tests and committed to bi-monthly check ins with a case manager. More interestingly, however, Stewart agreed to take part in special tribal rituals meant to heal him of his dependencies.


Gabe’s tribal recovery regimen included everything from sweetgrass picking, to basket making, to traditional sweat lodge ceremonies. He also took part in special healing rituals built upon fundamental Penobscot beliefs. Cultural advisors were present for the entire portion of this journey and documented Stewart’s success.


“The support of the tribe and their acceptance of all of the stuff that I was going through, it was incredible,” Gabe told VICE in an online interview. “No matter how pissed off I got during this, they all still stayed by my side. It was amazing. I really haven’t had a lot of that in my life.”


Sadly, Native American tribes represent some of the people hardest hit by America’s opioid epidemic. To put it in perspective, overdose deaths from rural American Indians rose by 519 percent over the past 15 years. That’s more than double the increase nationally.


Thankfully, Penobscot is hardly the first tribe to implement this type of recovery practice. Many more across the country and blending rituals into their addiction healing programs and seeing great success.


For a closer look at this rising trend and the positive outcome it’s having, take a look at VICE’s mini expose below…