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Ancient Native American Ceremonies Help Soldiers Overcome PTSD

December 29, 2014
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Ancient Native American Ceremonies Help Soldiers Overcome PTSD
Native American Women Warriors members and U.S. military veterans prepare to march the colors into the opening ceremony of the White House Tribal Nations Conference in Washington, D.C., Dec. 5, 2012. About 1 percent of veterans are of American Indian or Native Alaskan descent. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
"The returning warriors of that time came back to their local villages and communities exhibiting many of the same symptoms that veterans today."

You’re probably not aware, but about 1 percent of veterans are of American Indian or Native Alaskan descent.

While this group is just a tiny percentage of our Armed Forces, Native American veterans are two to three times as likely to experience PTSD as white veterans, says Dr. Spero Manson, Ph.D., who leads the Centers for American Indian and Native Alaskan Health at the University of Colorado’s School of Public Health.

Why does this group suffer mental anguish more than others? Manson, who is a member of the Pembina-Chippewa tribe, thinks it’s because Native Americans are more likely to spend more time in combat than soldiers of other ethnicities. “The greatest predictor of trauma among veterans is, in fact, exposure to combat,” he tells Colorado Matters.

Although the issues faced by veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan are unique, Manson believes this problem isn’t new, extending back for as long as there have been warriors. “The returning warriors of that time came back to their local villages and communities exhibiting many of the same symptoms that veterans today, who have seen combat, do,” he says. “They’re irritable, quick to fight, they distance themselves from others. They’re very difficult to reintegrate into their communities.”

Manson believes the ancient ceremonies tribes developed to address these problems can be helpful to today’s soldiers. He cites the Lakota Wiping of Tears, “where tears are symbolically brushed from the cheeks,” as being helpful.

Manson’s own son returned troubled after serving in the Marine Corps and finally got back on his feet through a mixture of tribal and traditional medical interventions. “We just have to figure out how to…support them in the process,” Manson says.

MORE: Can Ancient Native American Traditions Heal Today’s Vets?

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