Lakota Sioux Health: the Possibilities of European Correlation

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When the cause and solution are unclear in historical events or scientific studies, we speak of possibilities. We debate the possibilities of how, what and why in order to obtain a clearer or at least a step closer to the actual fact that sometimes is not accessible through anything other than possibilities. The fact here is that the Pine Ridge Reservation, home to the Lakota Sioux and the second largest reservation in America, is one of, if not the poorest, communities in America. The inhabitants suffer from a poor quality of life and health that is and has been on a downward spiral into oblivion. According to current USDA Rural Development documents, the Lakota have the lowest life expectancy of any group in America.[1] Statistics by the U.S. Census Bureau state that teenage suicide rate on the Pine Ridge Reservation is 150% higher than the U.S. national average for this age group.[2] The rate of diabetes on the reservation is reported to be 800% higher than the U.S. national average. More than half the reservation's adults battle addiction and disease; alcoholism, diabetes, heart disease, cancer and malnutrition are pervasive. The big question is why do the Lakota have a higher percentage of suicide rates, obesity, heart disease, alcoholism and many other health issues than the national average when there are only approximately 40,000 inhabitants on the Pine Ridge Reservation? Is it possible that the Lakota are genetically prone for poor mental and physical health? Or could the health of modern day Sioux be an after effect of European contact? The physical and mental health of modern day Sioux has to be compared to that of their ancestors of pre-European North America in order to gauge how, when and why their health has diminished by colossal proportions, if it indeed has. This is no simple task, especially when dealing with psychological issues, since the causation of those issues differ from person to person, it is much too difficult to fully understand, not only the mental state of pre-European Sioux but also why their mental state was the way it was. However, by looking at the way they lived, their culture, environment and life processes upon European contact and applying that knowledge to what psychologists believe lead to a healthy mental state, it can help ascertain the mental health of pre-European Sioux. There have been recent studies that suggest that religion and or spirituality can have a positive effect on mental health. Beliefs and values are often times derived from religious/spiritual practices, teachings and traditions and can greatly influence a mental state.3 The Sioux of North and South Dakota were very spiritual people and their practices and lifestyles reflected their beliefs. They had their own creation story with spirits, rather than gods, that represented different aspects of the earth and universe. The Sioux, like most Native tribes, felt complete unity with their land, the animals, plants and all their surroundings. All these things, especially the buffalo, played significant parts in their religious belief system as well as their overall way of life.4 It is important to remember that the Sioux had a reverence for land and their culture were characterized by an intimate relationship with nature. Earth, they believed, was mother of all, especially the land that their tribe dwelt on.5 They would say long prayers thanking the Great Spirit for their land, in which only true happiness could be found. The Sioux religion brought about their values as well as beliefs. They felt life was precious, not just human life but animal and plant life as well. When hunting, after killing an animal, they would pray over the carcass and use every part of that animal, the meat to eat, the fur for clothing and the bones for regalia, in order not to put any waste upon that animal's life. The Tribe shared culture orally through stories, which most of the time contained a moral of...
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