I write this post with humility and trepidation. Daughter, Linea, and I were invited to speak at the Empowerment Conference for Native Americans with Disabilities in Polson, Montana. We flew into Missoula, MT, and drove north to Polson. Montana, home of the Big Sky, is amazingly beautiful and every time I visit I feel so very small in a very large world. More so this time. We drove north, entering the Flathead Indian Reservation and finally up a hill to a breathtaking view of Flathead Lake before descending to Polson. The conference is a yearly occurrence attracting people from the Blackfeet, Mandan, Northern Cheyenne, Crow, Salish, Kootenai, Assiniboine, Sioux, Gros Ventre, Pend d’Oreille, Chippewa Cree, and Little Shell Tribes as well as many others.We spoke about stigma and mental health, treatment and resources but I knew nothing. It has always been obvious to both Linea and I that we are very blessed with resources and support in her journey with bipolar disorder. I also know that not everyone is willing or prepared to share their personal story with mental illness. We feel a responsibility to share ours since we have the opportunity and resources to do so and we offer this with the intent to increase understanding and support. I felt incredibly inadequate and humbled presenting to the Native American people at this conference. I know that diagnosis and treatment has been the key to Linea’s wellness but what does that look like for people living on a reservation? I do know that resources are slim. I do know that people told us of long waits to see a psychiatrist and of limited treatment and resources. I heard from men and women that sharing a story of mental illness beyond the family was not appropriate for many yet I also heard that doing so would help to increase support. One woman told me, “I should share my story but I can’t.” She thanked me for sharing ours.
I still know so little. I was humbled and honored to have been asked to present at this conference but I haven’t walked with the good people in our audience. I only heard tiny pieces of their own heartaches. I know that within our deepest “oneness” we are all on this path together as human beings but I knew nothing of their personal stories with mental illness.
The conference began with Tommy Stiffarm of the Sacred Web Recovery Coalition /Wounded Warriors Project and from the Little Shell Tribe tribe opening with a blessing ceremony for the speakers. Again I was humbled by the opportunity to share this sacred ceremony. He asked Grandfather to bless him, a “pitiful man", and Linea and I and the other speakers, as we traveled together through the conference. I stood with palms up to receive this blessing, simply asking to understand a small piece more of this work. Help me, a pitiful woman, I know nothing. Teach me.
My book, Perfect Chaos, co-authored with my daughter, was released May 2012 (St. Martin's Press). I am a professor in special education. I love new experiences and learning new things. I don't know if anyone is out there reading this except my family!