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“In Indian country, trauma is not something that happens because of floods or tornadoes, it is something that our people have experienced for generations. We have layers of trauma and so this is nothing new, but when those kinds of events happen, it triggers. All of those things come back.” So explains Marla Bull Bear, executive director, Native American Advocacy Project (NAAP).

Founded in 1993 to help people with psychiatric disabilities, NAAP advocated long and hard for cultural competency so, when disasters hit, the state department of mental health called them in to assist with crisis counseling.

In June of 1999, tornadoes “cut through the heart” of the Pine Ridge reservation. NAAP was on site within one day and stayed for nine months. Bull Bear and her team convinced the Indian Health Service (IHS) that acu detox was an “essential part” of what was needed for successful mental health crisis counseling.

The team gave ear acupuncture to disaster victims, to the IHS mental health staff, to tribal police called in to help, and to each other. Daily debriefings and acu detox allowed the team members to maintain their own strength and health, attests Bull Bear.

Acu detox, she explains, continues to be used by her team, “If we are going to make it available, it needs to be consistently available”, says Bull Bear.

“It fits with our values and who we are as a people. It fits with the way we believe that we heal and we get better and we cope with our life. It has a spiritual component and an emotional component. It has all of those elements that made sense. So we did not have to stop and do a lot of explaining, we just did it. And it was understood.” The community embraced acupuncture and the elders encouraged people to have treatments, she adds. Bull Bear praises the heart of Margaret Pinnington, NADA UK co-founder, who came to Pine Ridge to provide acu detox training.

The team provided acu detox treatment on-site at the disaster recovery center, where already-traumatized people stood in line for five hours and filled out stacks of paperwork in order to get a tent, and where young and old gathered to watch the weather channel. “The initial stages of a response to a trauma are more the physical ones. And so we were having a lot of people with headaches and nausea,” and the acu detox provided relief, says Bull Bear.

The team also took needles to people in the homes of relatives where they were staying. “This is frontier,” clarifies Bull Bear, explaining that poor roads and remoteness required the team to use four-wheel drive vehicles. Even driving ten miles of trails to get to one person, the team provided acupuncture to about 100 people per week.

The team incorporated acu detox into women’s groups, men’s groups, elders’ gatherings, sweat lodges ”It was just like another thing that we did”. Acupuncture also helped to relieve the conflicts that arose from strained living situations. Bull Bear marvels at the benefit of having such a simple way to help with such profound and compounded trauma.

“There was an elderly grandma that… did not want to leave her home, unfortunately the home had left her. All that was left was the foundation but she wouldn’t leave.… so there out in the middle of the prairie, there we were putting needles in.” Of course, Bull Bear stresses, the team used traditional methods of crisis counseling but the adjunctive acupuncture made it possible.

Bull Bear reports using magnetic beads on the Shen men point, especially effective with the youth. A local woman provided the herbs necessary to make Sleep Mix tea, essential because of the sleep disturbance secondary to trauma and relocation.

Using acu detox for disaster relief is not new. Ear needles came to Honduran hurricane survivors with Maria Delores Diaz, LAc and a team of experts (see Guidepoints, March 1999).

NAAP has expanded services working with all the nine Indian reservations in South Dakota, serving individuals (and their extended families) that have developmental, physical, mental and/or neurobiological disabilities. Services include referrals, support, independent living skills, advocacy, education and training. In a partnership, NAAP operates Kiyuskapi Oyanke (A Place of Freedom), an outpatient addiction treatment program on the Rosebud Tribal Nation. The agency’s acu detox brochure notes that acupuncture was formerly “used by Northern Plains tribes using porcupine quills.”

Bull Bear made her remarks during the April conference of National Acupuncture Detoxification Association (NADA). Her vision, explains Bull Bear, is to create a Native American NADA. She invites anyone with suggestions, ideas or grant opportunities to join her.

Contact: Marla Bull Bear, executive director, Native American Advocacy Project, PO Box 527, Winner, SD 57580. (800) 303-3977 Fax: (605) 842-3983. E-mail: Web:

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