National Native American Healing Through Art Center

Thinking Out Of The Box: What’s Your Thoughts?

The National American Indian Healing Through the Arts Center


Concept paper

Elizabeth Belcourt, MSW

Art therapy is a mental health profession that uses the creative process of art making to improve and enhance the physical, mental and emotional well-being of individuals of all ages. It is based on the belief that the creative process involved in artistic self-expression helps people to resolve conflicts and problems, develop interpersonal skills, manage behavior, reduce stress, increase self-esteem and self-awareness, and achieve insight.

Art therapy integrates the fields of human development, visual art (drawing, painting, sculpture, and other art forms), and the creative process with models of counseling and psychotherapy. Art therapy is used with children, adolescents, adults, older adults, groups, and families to assess and treat the following: anxiety, depression, and other mental and emotional problems and disorders; substance abuse and other addictions; family and relationship issues; abuse and domestic violence; social and emotional difficulties related to disability and illness; trauma and loss; physical, cognitive, and neurological problems; and psychosocial difficulties related to medical illness. Art therapy programs are found in a number of settings including hospitals, clinics, public and community agencies, wellness centers, educational institutions, businesses, and private practices.

Art therapists are master’s level professionals who hold a degree in art therapy or a related field. Educational requirements include: theories of art therapy, counseling, and psychotherapy; ethics and standards of practice; assessment and evaluation; individual, group, and family techniques; human and creative development; multicultural issues; research methods; and practicum experiences in clinical, community, and/or other settings. Art therapists are skilled in the application of a variety of art modalities (drawing, painting, sculpture, and other media) for assessment and treatment.

NOTE: this excerpt is from, the website of the American Art Therapy Association

Introduction American Indians are challenged today with finding health and healthy lifestyles. We are impacted by significant health disparities, where poverty, poor health, early death, and inadequate healthcare delivery prevail. Mental health services are no exception. The following is reported by the Indian Health Service:

□ The American Indian and Alaska Native people have long experienced lower health status when compared with other Americans. Lower life expectancy and the disproportionate disease burden exist perhaps because of inadequate education, disproportionate poverty, discrimination in the delivery of health services, and cultural differences. These are broad quality of life issues rooted in economic adversity and poor social conditions.

□ American Indians and Alaska Natives born today have a life expectancy that is 2.4 years less than the U.S. all races population (74.5 years to 76.9 years, respectively; 1999-2001 rates), and American Indian and Alaska Native infants die at a rate of 8.5 per every 1,000 live births, as compared to 6.8 per 1,000 for the U.S. all races population (2000-2002 rates).

□ American Indians and Alaska Natives die at higher rates than other Americans from tuberculosis (600% higher), alcoholism (510% higher), motor vehicle crashes (229% higher), diabetes (189% higher), unintentional injuries (152% higher), homicide (61% higher) and suicide (62% higher). (Rates adjusted for misreporting of Indian race on state death certificates; 2000-2002 rates.) Many of the leading causes of death for American Indians have a foundation in the mental/behavioral health of the individual Indian person. Our people have experienced historical trauma related to National Indian Policy (i.e. assimilation era, reservation era, boarding school era, relocation etc.). We continue to suffer from a high incidence of alcoholism and substance abuse which can be often connected to a loss of identity, the breakdown of the Indian family, poverty and hopelessness. A large percentage of American Indians in Montana are living below the 200 percent (200%) poverty level. Up to 33 percent (33%) of all AI employed on the reservation live 100% below the poverty level. Unemployment rates reach as high as 70% on most of the reservations.

Purpose The National Healing Center: Healing through the Arts is an organization that will promote healing with integrity and culture based approach utilizing the art form of Native American people. Historically Native American art form has metaphorically and symbolically represents the culture, identity, and spiritually. It conveys our basic value and belief systems. As part of our healing through the art we will identify who we are as Indian people and address the historical trauma that has taken place throughout the centuries, and is current in our daily lives today.

The National Healing Center will be a resource center for Native American Indians to learn about our historical trauma and with healing through the arts, address the trauma that continues to plague our lives with Alcoholism, Drug Addiction, Mental Health, Physical Health, Emotional Health and Spiritual Health issues, in our present daily living. The National Healing Center is for Native American children, adults and families. Through the resource center we will have a foundation that will bring together our resources, our own healers in the field of Substance Abuse and Mental Health, and professionals across the board to address the best practices approach in our traditional and cultural practices to enhance the longevity of our people. We will develop a national network of professionals, traditional healers and cultural specialists to create a network for Indian people to access what is needed to help their communities address wellness and health.

Our resource is our cultural and traditional ways, and by working with the contemporary art forms, traditional art forms, we will provide a safe environment to express our thoughts and feelings without criticism. We will provide support to develop community healing centers to address how our cultural practices are a key to our health and well being.

Through a collaborative group process we will develop a strategic plan, guided by our cultural principles we will develop a vision statement, mission statement and goals and objectives for the next five years. With our strategic plan we bring together our collective thoughts and prayers to help our Native American children and families. We will address the impact of alcoholism on our people, and how historically it has affected Indian people today and how we can bring hope to our people with our intact cultural and spiritual practices. From our traditional and cultural practices and utilizing the healing through art concepts, we will develop a culturally relevant framework and best practices to enhance our well being and address present trauma and heal through art and performing art as a way to express our feelings.

Broken Treaties Our broken treaties plague our lives today, with the introduction of the fire water that pierced our people’s lives with chaos and confusion. Genocide lies, and thievery are the tricks of the white man to us and our ancestors. We are a strong spirited people and have endured throughout three thousand years on our land, and with the plague of alcoholism we will see that with our culture and traditions brought back to us, we can conquer the impact of alcoholism by fighting for our ways that lead us to ourselves, to help our generations to come. We are not lost, we are here and we will always be here. Our elders are our future; our youth bring us hope that we will be a strong nation once again. The broken treaties can not break our spirit, they only reflect the men who made the promises and told the lies so they could have our land. But we are connected to our land, our mother earth; we have given her our hopes for one day, living in harmony again. We are living the way we know how; we are survivors of the storm that blew through our territories, and left us a disaster, leaving no trace of the footsteps that were once imprinted on the ground. Everyday, we endure hardship, poverty, disease, alcoholism, drug addiction, child abuse and neglect. Our families are in pain, our families cry out for help to the Indian Health Service and government, but they do not hear our cry for help. We can only comfort one another with our stories to share, to hear our own voices of the past that once were and still are so powerful and healing. Our voices are still here, and our traditions, values and spirituality are all still here within ourselves.

Basic Concepts An opening prayer of the Sun Dance of the Teton Sioux depicts the hope for our Indian community. The words of the song represent the will to survive:

Grandfather, a voice I am going to send, hear me, all over the universe, a voice I’m going to send, hear me, Grandfather, I will live. I have said it.”

The voice of continuation and struggle in life despite the obstacles and health disparities, multiple disorders, and social problems our families have endured throughout the century is important in the natural healing process. Our spirit gives us the strength to overcome each problem within our complex world.

A Laguna Pueblo medicine song’s words in the “Hexagon” also bring a message to the people.

“I add my breath to your breath, that our days may be long on the Earth; that the days of our people may be long; that we shall be one person; that we may finish our roads together. May Oshrats bless you with life”

With these powerful songs and words, they teach us to “build resilience and facilitate recovery”, (SAMHSA’s mission), in our lives. Historically Indian people have made strides to maintain our cultural values, norms and beliefs and this brings great hope for our future, our youth and our families.

These words from different Native American cultures bring significant meaning to our lives today. “Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death for American Indian and Alaska Native adolescents.” The words from our elders and passed down in our culture have significant meaning and messages for our Indian youth today.

Native American Traditional Philosophies have in common, a unique view of Humankind in relationship with the World. One of the greatest gifts from our Ancestor Nations is an interdependent/respectful/powerful/and unlimited “World View”. When we come to understand and begin to live from the value that: “All life is indeed sacred” and we are part of the “web of sacredness”, our potential becomes unlimited. Our Ancestor’s taught that humility and power and responsibility go hand and hand. They taught that all perceptions of the World are unique and valid. Our perceptions/our values/ create a different reality for each individual/each tribe/ each culture/ and each nation; yet all were to be respected and valued.” With an increased awareness of the cultural oppression resulting in historical trauma, and with traditional and spiritual development in the healing process, the reclaiming of our heritage and destiny in reviving our natural cultural practices in our future, with our youth.

Native American youth have unmet cultural needs. Strengthening cultural identity, belonging, relationship, “traditional role” and historical meaningfulness are important for Native American youth. As a result of historical trauma the sacred hoop (of Native World) is broken, and the results for Native peoples are:

□ Loss of homeland
□ Loss of identity
□ Loss of culture through losses of: language, extended-family system, tribal value system, tribal traditions, traditional educational methods, role models, healing methods, ceremonies, a natural world order, dignity, power, safety, sovereignty, destiny, and a spiritual way of life.

The loss of self-worth resulting in: anger, fear, humiliation, shame, isolation, depression, hopelessness, powerlessness, apathy, denial, rage, violence, illness, multi-generational grief, distrust, self and cultural-hate, and suicide, and internalized-oppression ( a belief in the attitudes/ and false labeling of Native Americans) The goal of having a conference on historical trauma addressing the underlying issues of drugs and alcohol, juvenile delinquency, mental health disorders, child abuse and neglect and it’s impact on youth in the suicide prevention aspect will be a benefit to the youth and their families.

To achieve a better future for Native American children and youth, we need to understand and explain effective strategies to strengthen and sustain healthy families and communities. One cannot talk about strategies to promote the mental health and well-being of Native American children and youth without engaging in a discussion about the serious impact of both colonization and the boarding school experience on Native American families and children. The chaotic conditions that exist within many Native American communities are commonly traced back to colonization and the boarding school experience, which are both known to have actively and intentionally suppressed Native American knowledge and cultural values. In particular, boarding schools interfered with the Native American family structure and its cultural foundation. The experience has been both highly disruptive and responsible for creating a generation of individuals who, having been removed from their families, often no longer understood what it meant to be part of their family of origin, let alone how to create a healthy family of their own. It should come as no surprise that the day-to-day existence of many Native American children and youth is frequently marked by shame, uncertainty and significant stress. The problems associated with colonization in Native Americans communities; destruction of self-respect and self-esteem; disruption of family life resulting in problems related to alcohol, drug, and substance abuse, as well as physical, sexual and emotional abuse; and suicide.

Our policy makers need to acknowledge the historical context and continuing impact of colonization on Native American Peoples, and with the numerous government reports echoing a solemn commitment to support initiatives that promote the health and well-being of Native American peoples. In many jurisdictions significant resources have been invested in supporting innovative strategies and recent reports indicate there is some progress in terms of improvements in health status. Nonetheless, the disintegration of the family continues to plague many Native Americans communities with serious impact on the community at large, as well as the physical and mental health and well being of children and youth.


Personal Information, Education and Work History My name is Samuel F. English, and I am an enrolled member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians at Turtle Mountain North Dakota. I am also a descendant of the Redlake Band of Chippewa Indians, Redlake, Minnesota through my father. I was born in Phoenix Arizona and have spent most of my life in the southwest, having lived the past forty year in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I am divorced with four children and twelve grandchildren. My four children are also enrolled members of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians.

My high school graduation date was 1960. For the next several years of my life I attended college in Oklahoma and Colorado, without the success of graduation. I took my first drink of alcohol in Colorado at the age of fourteen. I drank for the next twenty five years of my life which resulted in a disease called alcoholism. This illness took its toll on my life. My college careers were interrupted by my drinking alcohol, my jobs for the next eighteen years of my life, which were excellent in terms of providing me with access to Indian Affairs and upward mobility, were gone for alcohol. I worked for the National Indian Youth Council, three and half years, Indian Health Service out of Rockville, Maryland office, one year, Bureau of Indian Affairs, initially for three and half years, my first employment from which I resigned attempting college again, then married with one child and resulting in my dropping out of college as the BIA would not give me a college scholarship. But since us Indian people were deemed to have good assets such as great assets such as great manual dexterity, no brain power. I had to accept a BIA relocation program out to Oakland, California to study electronics, which by the way was a farce of a program. I remained with my family for about three and a half years. It was out in California where I again enrolled at the University of San Francisco, after finishing the BIA program. My wife worked, and then I entered the realm of American Indian Affairs through the Oakland Indian Center. I found it exciting as I had known somewhat of the dreaded tragedy of American Indian history. But I had very limited knowledge of it. It was my involvement there and attending the University of San Francisco that I began orientating myself of the affairs of Indian people, both urban and reservation. By listening to those wise speakers, reading Indian newspapers, reading books that were now becoming available by Indian authors, such as Vine Deloria, Jr., and sitting in on Indian discussions at the Indian Center. Alcohol was becoming a detriment at this point of my life; I had noticed but did not quit drinking. It was out there that I became employed by the National Indian Youth Council, an organization incorporated in 1961 by American Indian youth people, college students and graduates, those with higher education degrees. I was amazed by their accomplishments and their knowledge of their tribal identities, language, spirituality, family, things that I didn’t have, except for family. I was overwhelmed by their accomplishments and there I was, at the age of 26 and still a college student. I spent the next three and a half years with them, eventually moving their office to Albuquerque, New Mexico, where I was terminated in the latter of 1971. I was then hired by Indian Health Service, out of central office in Rockville, Maryland, to work in the office of Dr. Lionel Demontigny. I was there for several years, did a lot of traveling nationally, including to Alaska, promoting Indian self-determination initiatives such as controlling their own health destinies (which I considered a failed project as one can easy envision by our present lack of first world health operations, instead of fourth world programs that barely exist for we people. I attended tribal leader conferences, working for the Indian Health Service gave me access to the tribal/government relationship, that relationship I think to be no better today.

I was then terminated from the Indian Health Service in latter of 1973 due to my alcoholism and my personal support of the American Indian Movement and its takeover of the BIA central office in Washington, D.C. To this day, I still am in total support of American Indian people. My alcoholism had taken over my life at this point, causing a divorce. I had three children from that marriage and I abandoned them. Primarily the marriage was over but my abandonment of my children still haunts me to this day, even though I continue to work on my recovery and my sobriety of twenty seven years later in an international/national fellowship of recovering alcoholics. I have forgiven myself and other but the pain will remain forever.

I drank after my termination from the Indian Health Service for the next eight years of my life. I did experience sobriety for several months and did get employment with the office of human rights, city of Albuquerque, New Mexico for about a year and then was accepted by the BIA for employment in the office of tribal operations. It was an upward mobility slot of training, beginning in Anadarko, Oklahoma and ending up in Aberdeen, South Dakota. Again I was terminated due to my alcoholism. By then, the disease of alcoholism was prominent in my life. I needed to drink on a daily basis, and although I was not a continuous drinker, I was a binge drinker, of drinking about seven to twelve days at a time, then sober up, or go to treatment, which I attended eighteen times, in five different states before I reached sobriety over a period of eight years.

Today, I am an American Indian artist. I have 27 years of sobriety and I am 66 years old. Although I have never returned to complete a college career, I did apply and was accepted to Harvard, back in about 1975, to work on a master’s degree. They accepted my past work history to qualify me for a four year degree, it was a full paid adventure. I declined for by then I knew that alcohol was a major liability in my life and I didn’t feel that I could accept another set back, especially one from Harvard. I knew that I would drink again on this program causing a termination of me at some point, this I could not take anymore, spiritually, mentally or physically. My sobriety date is December 1981, I took my last drink, went to a meeting as I had done many times before and introduced myself, “my name is Sam English, I am an alcoholic”. Something for me changed that night and I knew it, but the struggle was just beginning, one day at a time, staying sober. My life long goal of being an artist quickly entered my thoughts the first month of sobriety and I knew that decision time had arrived, to work for a living earning a wage which I was prepared to do, to the extent of sweeping streets or, become an artist. I chose the artist career. I had wanted to be an artist ever since I could remember; now the time arrived.

I am a spiritual man, I believe in a higher power, a creator if you may and it’s many good spirits. I had believed in this concept even through the darkest days of my drinking alcohol even though at times I spurned the belief, but then realized quickly what I had thought and asked to be forgiven by the creator. Whatever I believed still works for me today, for the journey of sobriety, the career as an artist had been a tough one. I have suffered many hardships but the threat of drinking again never entered my thoughts only to trudge forward and continue to believe.

My art career was also many times tough, but also very exiting. I had to train myself to paint as I am a self taught artist. I had to listen and learn from the many artist friends of mine, one whose name is Mr. Hank Gobin of the northwest. He was a former administrator of the American Indian Art Institute, Santa Fe, New Mexico. When we met, I was a practicing full time artist. I never forgot his advice. What I didn’t know about being an artist was that painting was only a small facet of the career. I had to learn how to sell my art, market my art, run a gallery, become a responsible accountant, be a teacher, and a listener. But most of all, I had to learn to choose a style and technique indigenous to me. One where people could see my art, somewhere in the world and say that is a Sam English piece, I would recognize it anywhere. I have heard that from collectors of my art. I have heard that from American Indian people, American Indian artists and I have to say that it is an amazement to be, a gift. I have worked hard in the art business, many ups and probably more downs, but I continue to survive. We have been most fortunate to b e selected by the many tribes, federal government agencies, non-profits, to do the art work for their poster prints. There are almost 90 prints since 1981 when I first entered the art world. Now we are in the process of publishing a table top art book with those poster prints dedicating this book to American Indian people. The book should be out by the end of the February and information can be accessed by logging onto Along the journey of the art world this has been my recovery from alcoholism. I aided in starting an American Indian A.A. meeting, 26 years ago and it still continues. We are initiated by Indian A.A. convention coming up on 16 years this May. We used Indian sober A.A. members from around the country to speak and we usually have in attendance from three to four hundred, mostly Indian people from the southwest and other parts of the country. We also initiated an “Indians in sobriety camp out” approximately 23 years ago that journey throughout the southwest during the summer, having campouts. We have A.A. meetings, sweat lodges, talking circles, an Indian dance on Saturday nights for social dancing, not contest dancing, showing off or other white oriented events. We try to emphasize Indian integrity for our culture. I speak around the country at conferences. I do art workshops for the Indian Youth, adults, elders and we have painted bill boards for Indian communities, and have done an assortment of art initiatives that I hope emphasize the importance of sobriety and not drinking alcohol/drugs but to have healthy living, healthy eating habits to combat diseases such as diabetes. This is so prevalent in our communities, with now the onslaught of cancer issues, we stress the importance of American Indian integrity, to grow up to be somebody, someone. We need to have a college educated resource for our people, seeking economic development, upgrading our educational systems which now at the present are probably the lowest on the rating of education pole. And the lack of proper health care initiatives, the issue of health disparities, we have now at best we get third or fourth rate care with very little interest in our health which was part of the treaties our people signed. Tribal corruption is at an all time high, we people seem to forget what our primary responsibility is, for the people. Why is it we are left out of everything good this country has to offer, the economy, the political system, why we don’t vote? I think and feel that we American Indian people live in abject poverty with no hope, yet there is hope but it is totally dependent on us to take responsibility to upgrade our Indian lives and our communities well being. We are not those names they gave us, barbarians and savages. We are legitimate people, put her by the creator. We have gifts of value for our people, on of the most valued gifts is to take care of the land, the water, the animals, life, and mother earth, let us begin to become human again.
The Southwestern Association for Indian Arts announces that Sam
English, noted Indian artist and activist, has been awarded its
Lifetime Achievement Award.
“This award, given since 1994, recognizes the best of native
artists, the way they’ve shared their art with their own communities
and other communities. The honoree’s life exemplifies more than just
being an artist, which is a big part of why Sam was chosen. He has
used his art to communicate who he is and how he stands in the world,”
said Bruce Bernstein, Executive Director of SWAIA.
An awards dinner will be held June 4 in Santa Fe, NM. Several
hundred people will attend. The program will include a short biography
of Sam, and Sam will be asked to speak. Sam will be presented with a
small statue, designed by a SWAIA artist, to commemorate the honor.
Sam also will be recognized on Aug. 22, at noon, at the Indian Market.


One response to “National Native American Healing Through Art Center

  1. Pingback: Native American Healing in the 17th Century

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