Report from the Field: Mind-Body with the Lakota at Pine Ridge

February 17, 2012

By Kathleen Farah MD

Center faculty members Bob Buckley, Kathy Farah and Judith Pedersen-Benn , Certified practitioners Matt Erb and Julie Kilpatrick ,and Certification Candidate Noshene Ranjbar, worked with Lakota Indians on the Pine Ridge Reservation in southwestern South Dakota during November 2011. Here are excerpts from their report.

Our week at Pine Ridge was an exercise in flexibility, organizing as we went, practicing and teaching mind-body skills wherever we could, and being persistent but patient in the process. As word of what we were doing spread, more calls came in to have us work with various groups including the staff of the tribal police department. We learned quickly that if 30 people were registered for a group, this meant to expect 10 or 15!

We split up in various configurations and did a combination of workshops, series of groups, and sometimes one-time groups. In the end, we served around 165 people. We worked with teachers, counselors and students in the schools; the staffs of the tribe’s health administration department and the Indian Health Service hospital including the CEO, nurses, doctors and support staff. We worked with a non-profit that provides social services and foster care placement, and staff and clientele of a local non-profit substance abuse clinic. Each night we held a public group at the Jesuit-run Red Cloud School, open to anyone with interest that drew an eclectic mix of participants.

The themes that we encountered reflected a community riddled with the chronic effects of historical trauma: alcoholism and substance abuse, numerous chronic health issues, poverty, and depression. We learned of the challenges of the epidemic of suicide. We needed to consult with medicine man Basil Brave Heart regarding some of the issues that came out in our groups regarding the local spiritual beliefs surrounding suicide, and our ability to support the group members. We also learned of the profound resiliency and humor of a beautiful group of people living in challenging circumstances.

In the end, this trip was successful at providing outreach in this simple but powerful model of self-care that we all feel so deeply in our hearts, and was another step in bringing this model to Native Americans and other aboriginal and indigenous communities impacted by hundreds of years of transmission of historical trauma, cultural trauma, and genocide.

“I am in awe of the experience that taught me that a people can be wounded, yet open; display grace amidst pain and humor alongside tears. I have been changed by this week.”

Kathy Farah, MD, Pine Ridge Team

To learn more about the Lakota at Pine Ridge, watch this 20/20 segment, “Children of the Plains”, broadcast 10/14/11