Naomi’s Rain

•November 6, 2011 • Leave a Comment

A group of roughly 100 people gathered at the Oklahoma state capitol  Wednesday to pay tribute to and demand justice for Naomi Whitecrow, a 2  year old Cheyenne and Arapaho tribal member killed in 2009 while in the care of a foster family.  The foster mother, Amy Holder, of Edmond, Oklahoma was found guilty in October of child abuse and after about 10 hours of deliberation the jury recommended a $5,000 fine but no jail time.   After word of the jury’s recommendation was released, outrage sparked  throughout the Indian community as family members,  friends, and total strangers struggled to understand how the brutal murder of a  child could result in a mere fine.

Formal sentencing was set for November 7th in Guthrie, Oklahoma and  many participants vowed to be present there as well to show support for  Naomi.  The event coordinator, Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribal Tribune editor Rosemary Stephens, opened the event by introducing Cheyenne and  Arapaho Governor Janice Prairie Chief Boswell who welcomed the participants and encourage continued awareness of Naomi’s case and the need for stricter laws regarding child abuse.

The Campaign Justice for Naomi rally brought about supporters  protesting for more consistent and harsher penalties for those found  guilty in the death of a child in foster care.  Debby Whitecrow, Naomi’s aunt, told supporters and media members the family wanted Holder held accountable and felt the punishment in no way fit the crime.  “We want  justice that is what we are looking for in all of this. We are  here to remember her life and the life she is no longer going to be able  to live with us.”

Glenda Deer, a Kickapoo tribal member from Shawnee, Oklahoma and  outspoken supporter of the event, wrote the following on the Facebook event  page she created make the public aware of the sentencing date, “$5,000  for killing a Indian child in 2011?!… Our Indian kids are  priceless….there is NO amount of $ that can be set on ANY child…I  SAY PACK THE COURTROOM NOVEMBER (7th)…!!! LET GUTHERIE FEEL THE  PRESENCE OF INDIAN PEOPLE! There is no JUSTICE for indian people…it  really is “JUST US”

After reviewing the medical examiner’s report and photographs,  forensic pathologist Dr. Dean A. Hawley (Indiana University School of  Medicine) determined that Naomi had died as a result of blunt force  trauma to the head, abdomen, and extremities.

The arrest warrant, signed by District Attorney Vincent Antonioli  reads, “Child  abuse –  a felony, on or between the 12th day of September, 2008  through the 20th day of January, 2009, by maliciously failing to provide minimum, proper, and medical attention to N.W., age 2, while she was in the care and custody of the defendant as a foster child, and performed  unnecessary physical procedures on the aforementioned N.W., causing the  following physical injuries from the resulting blunt force trauma, to  wit:  pancreatic hemorrhage; fat necrosis; multiple contusions and  abrasion of her face and scalp; fresh left occipital subarachnod  hemorrhage;  left occipital and parietal cerebral cortical contusions;  contusions to the back, back of the head, front and back of legs, and  buttocks.

This crime is punishable by for imprisonment for up to life  and/or 1 year in the Logan County Jail and a fine of between $500.00 and $5000.00, or both.

Yolanda Bluehorse, a member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, spoke openly  and emotionally at yesterday’s rally, recalling her own daughter’s murder at the hands of a trusted caregiver. Bluehorse was there to  support the family and remember Naomi.  “I’m here to support the family.  I’m here for the little girl, for Naomi Whitecrow.” After fighting the  state of Texas to bring her own daughter’s killer to justice, Bluehorse  was visibly upset at the jury’s recommendation for the $5,000.00 fine.   “A monetary amount. Really? Does that mean anyone found guilty just pays a fine? Are we putting a price on child abuse?”

As the clouds grew dark and the wind grew cold, the crowd remained  steadfast as several tribal members and activists stood and spoke of the  need for justice and changes in current laws.  Supporters from many  different ethnic backgrounds held signs adorned with Naomi’s photo, with  phrases such as, “Justice For Naomi,” “Is This Going to Happen Again,” and “Please Give Me a Voice.”  Rally-goers were given pins with Naomi’s  photo that read, “Justice For Naomi” and a white ribbon, to reflect and  remind everyone of the innocence of our children.

The loss of that innocence was still apparent as Naomi’s mother, Kala  Whitecrow, stood to thank supporters for attending but could only say a  few words before she began to weep.  “I’m sorry,  I’m just too  emotional, I can’t do this.”  Audible sobs were heard from the crowd as Whitecrow nearly collapsed into the arms of her mother, sister, and  Rosemary Stephens.

As the women stepped away from the podium and the final prayer was  about to be offered, a light gentle rain began to fall.  Ben Carnes, a  Choctaw tribal member who had spoken earlier in the event, quietly  requested to address the crowd again.  With the raindrops apparent on  his face, Carnes spoke to Naomi’s mother.  “I’m a member of the Choctaw Nation and they say Amy Holder is Choctaw.  From my nation to yours, I  apologize for what she done.”  He lifted a hand to the sky.  “In our  tradition, a soft gentle rain is a feminine rain.  You can be sure  little Naomi is up there right now watching us and smiling.”  He bowed  his head and paused for a moment, then lifted his eyes to the clouds.   “It’s a feminine rain but it’s also a healing rain if we let it be.”

As the event ended, those who were there to pay tribute to and demand  justice for a little girl many had never met,  stood in silence as the soft gentle rain not only touched their face, hair, and jackets, but  their very souls.

A soft, gentle, feminine rain.  A healing rain.  Naomi’s rain.

Read the arrest warrant here (requires Adobe Acrobat Reader):   http://ftpcontent.worldnow.com/griffin/NEWS9/PDF/1001/amyholder.PDF

Edmond Woman Convicted of Child Abuse in Death of Foster Child KOTV News 6 Oklahoma City:   http://www.newson6.com/story/15608546/edmond-woman-convicted-of-child-abuse-in-death-of-foster-child

Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribal Tribune:   http://www.c-a-tribes.org/Websites/michaelwood/images/Newspapers/NewsPaper%202011/Oct.%2015,%202011.pdf

Glenda Deer’s event page for the sentencing:  https://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=123236737781181

This article was first published on CNN iReport by Raz’n Cain entitled Naomi’s Rain.  Copyright 2011.  All rights reserved.

It’s All About The Journey…

•April 20, 2011 • Leave a Comment

A prolific writer from an early age, Chloe’s work is typically referred to as “somber” yet motivational. Author of numerous poems, Chloe has recently been honored to have her poem “Tommy Knockers” used as a song by the talented singer/songwriter, J.D. Nash and Red Circle, Winner of “Spirit of the People” award for his song, “How You Gonna Be” at the 2008 Native E-Music Awards. Also written by Chloe and recorded by J.D. Nash and Red Circle were “Good Day to Live” and “Bring Me Your Tired” from their last CD, “Get Off My Lawn.”

Chloe is a mixed-blood Mohawk/Caucasian woman and an avid supporter of Indigenous American rights and causes. She is a nurse and lives in rural Kansas with her husband, two sons, daughter, son-in-law, and grandson, five dogs, three cats, and one snake. She also has a grown son and daughter and four granddaughters who live out of state.

A Reflection of Living in Two Worlds

•April 20, 2011 • Leave a Comment

On Thanksgiving, I’m often asked how I reconcile my disdain for the “holiday” with spending time with my family who observe the “traditional” American version.  While it appears simple, it really isn’t so much when you look through my eyes.  It’s a deep conflict of my soul and one that I struggle with each and every year.

Walking in two worlds is never easy, but living in two worlds, is even more difficult.  Difficult, but very real and at times, very rewarding.

I am Indigenous and I am Caucasian.  There’s no denying that.  All I one has to do is look at my fair skin and blue eyes and I’m questioned more often than not how I can call myself Indigenous rather than white.  I am not asked this so much by my Indigenous brothers and sisters, but instead by Caucasians who insist that I am white.  Even more so by those who ask to see my “Indian Card” and have attempted to force me to list “white” as my race because I am not a member of a federally recognized tribe.  My ancestors did not need the government to recognize them because when they did, their blood was spilled, their children stolen from them, and their culture nearly eradicated from American history.  That is a recognition I do not need, want, or require.

As for my Indigenous “family,” blood means nothing when you call yourself related.  Acceptance is because of who and what you are and I have many Native brothers and sisters, simply because we are so.  We are family because we choose to be family and that’s just the way it is.

When I was twenty-one, I can recall working in a sports bar in Indiana, just across the river from Louisville, KY.  My hair was short and blond then and there were a group of Native activists protesting the excavation of Indian grounds on the other side of the river.  A Native gentleman came in one night and ended up at the bar where I asked him what he would like to drink.  I can’t remember what he ordered, but he looked at me and asked if I was Indian.  I affirmed that I was and he sadly shook his head and said, “Then why do you color your hair?”  He picked up his drink and as he walked away he turned back to me and said, “Just be who you are…”

I don’t remember if he told me his name or even what nation he was from.  I just remember the look of disappointment and sadness in his eyes and the effect it had on me that day.  It would be the second step in my journey in finding who and what I was in the two worlds that I had been thrust into at birth.

I am Haudenosaunee.  Kanienkehaka.  Mohawk Indian.  I can’t prove it on paper.  I only have my family history.  An oral history that was handed down through the generations. Only in recent years has it been required that we as a people, prove who and what we are by the use of government documentation.  And sadly, it is only recently that our own people have decided that government recognition is that by which we are able to rightfully call ourselves Indigenous.

My ancestors lived in Canada and the Mohawk Valley area of New York state before they were slaughtered.  Those who survived were removed to the St. Regis Reservation and many ventured even further beyond.  My knowledge of my family is sparse, having been adopted by a Caucasian couple at birth who denied me any and all access to my Mohawk heritage, culture, tradition, religion, and identification.  Through the years, I have found lines to the Delaware, the Algonquin, the Creek, and the Mohigan tribes.  But my heart, my spirit, my soul, and my identification as an Indigenous woman, lie with the Mohawk of St. Regis.

I was raised in a Christian home where all Christian holidays were observed and celebrated, or else.  Although time with my adopted Grandfather was the epitome of love and devotion, I had little else to look forward to when it came to spending time with “family.”  I was told the myths surrounding Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter and forced to attend services honoring them.  Even as a young child, I could never understand how death of the innocent was to be celebrated.

Looking back over the course of more than three decades, I realize that I was fortunate to have the company of an Elder Indigenous man whom I met as a young girl of perhaps seven or eight.  A man who had the patience of eternity with my meandering thoughts, endless questions, and often times, unseemly behavior.  His instruction, his smile, his love, his gentle hands, and the deep weathered lines embedded into his ancient skin, will remain in my soul forever.  He was more than my friend.  He was my guide, my teacher, my conscience, and the only one who could have prepared me for the world I was destined to walk through. He led me through my first steps in finding who and what I was to be.

He taught me the true history of Thanksgiving, and yet I would return home and sit quietly and solemnly through the holiday dinners, faking interest, while nauseous at the idea of ingesting a meal in which the history was surrounded by blood and genocide.

I don’t know what ever happened to him.  I don’t remember his name.  I don’t remember his nation.  But I remember his face, the lines in his hands, the way they held mine as he taught me so many things, I remember his voice, and I remember his blue, blue eyes and often wonder as I look into the mirror and see my own cerulean sea of vivid questioning blue, if perhaps he and I were related somehow.

I still wonder today what became of him.  I went to visit him one day and he was gone.  That’s all.  Just, gone.  I was too young and too afraid to ask anyone about him.  I lacked the knowledge to check the newspapers or search obituaries, but thinking back now as an adult, something tells me his name or likeness were never there.

One of the things he taught me was that I would always walk in two worlds, because I had two worlds living inside of me.  He said I could struggle with them, or find peace with them.  I struggled for decades, until I learned that they CAN live in peace if I allow them.  He taught me to respect the beliefs of others while honoring and living my own as best I could.  And that’s exactly what I try to do.

I spend time with my family at Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, and other holidays, because it’s important to them.  Not so much about the religious aspect of the holidays, but rather the time spent with family and friends in just being together.  Every day with them, every moment, is a gift that I cherish.  Thus placing the history of whatever day it may be behind me, is so much more important than allowing myself to miss out on the opportunity to love them yet another day while they are still with me.

And so on Thanksgiving, while I abhor and despise what it stands for, I remain walking in two worlds simply because it was destined to be so.  I love my family and what is important to them.  I honor them just as I honor my ancestors and thank them for the sacrifices they made, for their blood that runs through my veins and the veins of my children and grandchildren, for the Elder who made such a difference in my life as a child, and even now, there is much to be grateful for regardless of the history behind Thanksgiving and America’s refusal to treat it as the celebration of genocide that it truly is.

I am Indigenous.  I am Caucasian.  I color my hair again now that I’m older; but instead of blond, I color it my natural black.  My hair is now as white as the Elder’s who taught me as a child.  My skin is just as fair and my eyes are just as blue.

I walk in two worlds and I live in two worlds.  I AM two worlds… and that’s the way my Creator made me to be and therefore I not only accept my destiny, I am proud to wear it as openly and honorably as I can and pray that I am exactly what it created me to be and am doing exactly what it created me to do.

The tattoo on my left arm bears the words, “Tohsa sasa’nikon:hren…”  Never forget.

May we never forget those who sacrificed their lives so that we are who and what we are today.  May we never forget who and what we are and may we never forget those that we love and cherish and never… NEVER forget to tell them that we love them.

Too Little, Too Late? President Obama Approves Disaster Declaration For Storm Ravaged South Dakota

•April 19, 2011 • Leave a Comment
CRST Tribal Chairman Joseph Brings Plenty presenting Senator Obama with the tribal resolution. The CRST was the first American Indian tribe to endorse Obama for the office of United States President.  

March 10th, 2010, seventy-five days after being struck by the first of two major storms that crippled the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe (CRST) reservation, President Barack Obama issued a disaster declaration for the state of South Dakota.

Although tribal chairman Joseph Brings Plenty issued a state of emergency for the tribe on January 27th, it would take Obama nearly two months to hear the desperate pleas of the Native nation that first endorsed him for President of the United States.  While millions of American dollars poured into Haiti and Chile’, America’s first peoples struggled to survive amidst sub-freezing temperatures and the deaf ears of it’s own country.

From the White House  website, the following declaration was listed:

“The President today declared a major disaster exists in the State of South Dakota and ordered Federal aid to supplement State and local recovery efforts in the area struck by a severe winter storm during the period of January 20-26, 2010.

Federal funding is available to State and eligible local governments and certain private nonprofit organizations on a cost-sharing basis for emergency work and the repair or replacement of facilities damaged by the severe winter storm in Aurora, Brule, Buffalo, Campbell, Corson, Day, Deuel, Dewey, Douglas, Edmunds, Faulk, Grant, Gregory, Hand, Harding, Hughes, Hutchinson, Hyde, Jerauld, McCook, McPherson, Meade, Perkins, Potter, Roberts, Sully, Turner, Walworth, and Ziebach Counties, as well as those portions of the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation, Sisseton-Wahpeton Indian Reservation, and Standing Rock Indian Reservation that lie within these counties.”

In his October 22, 2008 campaign video message entitled, “Barack’s Message for First Americans,” Obama states the following:

 “For twenty months now I’ve traveled this country often talking about the needs of the American people are going unmet by Washington.  And the truth is, few have been ignored by Washington for as long as American Indians.  Too often, Washington pays lip service to working with tribes while taking a one-size-fits-all approach with tribal communities across the nation.  That will change when I’m president of the United States.”

My American Indian policy begins with creating a bond between an Obama administration and the nations all across this country. We need more than just a government-to-government relationship, we need a nation-to-nation relationship; and I will make sure that tribal nations have a voice in the White House.

While tribal nations may have been promised a voice in the White House, it would seem that sadly, those voices have been silenced.

December 24, 2009 brought a crushing winter storm that left the CRST reservation with drifts of ice and snow towering 30 feet and more into the air.  Many still remain as a staunch reminder that the crises which blanketed tribal lands with deadly snow and ice, continue to be ignored  just as the many promises made, lying in state beneath a blanket of flowery words and smooth assurances that the “change we can believe in” would be a positive change for Native peoples.

January 21st brought new storms that left thousands without power, water, heat, food, medical supplies, and transportation, some for weeks.  Nearly ten thousand electrical poles lay scattered across the 2.8 million acres that make up the CRST reservation, the price of which the tribe will be required to absorb as the poles are repaired and replaced.

It has been reported that the state estimates damages from the storm in December will be in excess of $1 million; however no estimates have been provided for the January storms nor have estimates been given regarding the long-term damage to homes, roads, schools, or the health care of tribal members.

From an earlier interview with CRST chairman Joseph Brings Plenty, estimates for repairs to the reservation could be in excess of $100 million.  The water infrastructure was put into place some sixty years ago after the Missouri River, the tribe’s only natural source of water, was diverted away from the tribe’s land.  With a “shelf life” of only 25 years, the tribe was assured in 1976 that should the system fail or need repaired, it would be completed without fail.  That promise, just as every promise made to the Lakota, has gone unfulfilled and today the tribe continues the already daunting battle to provide clean healthy drinking water to it’s members.

It would seem, the “lip service” that President Obama spoke so harshly of in his video message, remains in full effect.

Treaties between the American government and Native nations have gone unfulfilled and as a result, many tribes remain in poverty with crime rates, rape and crimes against women, drug and alcohol addiction, and teen suicide continue to rise.  Crises such as these recent storms, only add to the current state of urgency that each tribe faces on a daily basis.

Barbara Low, Mi’kmaq activist,” Lakota Helper,” (a title of honor) and good friend of Autumn TwoBulls (Lakota youth activist from Pine Ridge) relates the following in regards to the rising incidents of alcoholism and the number of teen suicide on the reservations, “We [share] a history of Genocide, and with that in mind, I would just make one suggestion:  Not only is it important to highlight the positive with the negative, [it] is just as important to highlight the fact that the ‘negative’ is the RESULT of Colonialism induced genocide.  Too often, articles are written that miss the step between conditions and solutions.  We are not suicidal, impoverished peoples, because we are Indigenous.  We are suicidal, impoverished peoples, because of the inter-generational effects of genocide. Over 500 years of colonialism will drive anyone to drink.”

In his video message, President Obama one again makes promises that seem to lie further under the snow and ice than many of the reservation roads.

“Here’s what else we’re going to do.  We’re going to end nearly a century of mismanagement of Indian Trusts.  We’re going to work together to settle unresolved cases; figure out how the trusts ought to operate, and make sure they’re being managed responsibly.  Today, tomorrow, and always.  Now I  understand the tragic history between the United States and tribal nations.   And we’ve got to acknowledge that truth if we’re going to move forward in a fair and honest way.  Indian nations have never asked much of the United States.  Only for what was promised by treaty obligations made to their fore-bearers.  So let me be absolutely clear.  I believe treaty commitments are paramount law.  And I will fulfill those commitments as President of United States.

Nancy LeBeau, a CRST tribal member and school teacher who lives on the reservation, explained that many roads are still impassible and due to the nature of damages from the storms, many schools are unfit to house the children for lessons.  As a result, children are being bused during the early morning hours to rented buildings more than an hour away in order to remain consistent with their schooling. Many families have no means of transportation and should a child miss the bus, there is no way for that child to get to school.  She recalls the frustration not only as a teacher, but from the children and their families as they live day to day in poverty and now literally with their community in ruins.

President Obama also guaranteed “…a world class education for all our children.  I’ll work with tribal nations to reform ‘No Child Left Behind,’  and create opportunities for tribal citizens to become teachers, so you can be free to educate your children the way you know best.  We’ll increase funding for tribal colleges and I will make native language preservation and education a priority.  To give families in our tribal communities every chance to succeed in a twenty-first economy, I will cut taxes for ninety-five percent of all workers, invest in job training and small business development, and put people back to work rebuilding our crumbling roads, schools, and bridges.  And I will never forget the service and sacrifice that generations of American Indians have given to this country.  We have to keep our sacred trust with Indian veterans by making sure that no veteran falls into homelessness.  And that all our veterans get the benefits and support they have earned.”

Ms. Lebeau tells of one of her students and his family who struggle daily to see that his educational needs are met.  “A parent of one of my kids told me what they did when the blizzard hit. She has no car as many do here. So, she relies on a family member who has a vehicle, then when the storm hit, they all relied on the one family member who still had a wood stove. She was worried because she doesn’t know how she is going to pay for her increased water, fuel and electric bill. She also is a very concerned parent and lets her son (who suffers from multiple disabilities) keep the one alarm clock they have. If he forgets to turn it on, they miss the bus, thus miss school because she has no way to drive him 30 miles to school. She quickly switches the subject and talks about his favorite food and how she tries to get the ingredients. Life is hard for her, yet she composes herself and lets me know that she is happy he is in school.”

President Obama closed his video message by comparing his upbringing and lifestyle to that of an American Indian who is poor, fatherless, ignored, and unrespected.

“Let me just close by saying this.  I was born to a teenage mother.  My father left when I was two years old so I never knew him well.  I was raised in Hawaii by a single mother and my grandparents and we didn’t have a lot of money.  Where I grew up there weren’t many black families, so I know what it feels like to be viewed as an outsider sometimes. I know what it’s like not always have been respected, to sometimes have been ignored.  I know what it’s like to struggle.  Every president is shaped by his own experience.  These have been mine.  And so I want you to know that I will never forget you.  The American Indians I have met across this country will be on my mind each day that I’m in the White House.  You deserve a president that who’s committed to being a full partner with you, to respecting you, honoring you, and working with you every day.  That is the commitment I will make to you as President of the United States.”

Well President Obama, it’s time you put your money where your mouth is.  You’ve made promises that you’ve yet to keep.  You’ve ignored those you promised to acknowledge.  You’ve dishonored and disrespected those who you promised to honor and respect.  You’ve broken that “sacred trust” you so eloquently emphasized in your campaign speech.  It’s time you stopped paying that lip service you so vehemently condemned and began making the changes you spoke of, and begin living up to the commitment that you made to the Indigenous peoples of this country.

Photograph used with permission of CRST tribal chairman Joseph Brings Plenty.
Source:  KSFY Staff at  http://www.ksfy.com/news/local/87172442.html
Video Source:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OWocEgu3bPk&feature=related
President Obama’s Declaration of Disaster:  http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/president-obama-signs-south-dakota-disaster-declaration-0

BREAKING THE CYCLE: Alcoholism and Fetal Alcohol Syndrome In Native American Indians

•April 19, 2011 • Leave a Comment
BREAKING THE CYCLE:  Alcoholism and Fetal Alcohol Syndrome In Native American Indians

N.R. Fox © 2004

(This report was originally written in 2004 as a research paper.   Although several years have passed, the incidence of alcoholism in  Native America continues to rise and with it, crime, rape, and poverty  are also on the rise.   It is the author’s belief that the information  within this report remains just as important and valid as when it was  written.)

When one contemplates the concept of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) based on current and cultural data, the facts have not always been available to the general public. Unfortunately stereotyping and myths tend to make up the mass of what many believe to be factual details of this debilitating and preventable disease.  Fetal Alcohol Effects (FAE) is a similar but less profound condition which has fewer symptoms than FAS and will not be discussed in this report.

Before alcoholism can be understood, it must first be defined.  Dr. David Ohlm defines alcoholism as a “chronic, progressive, incurable disease, characterized by loss of control over alcohol and other sedative drugs.”

“In an alcoholic, when the body is digesting the alcohol, it produces an excess of the neurotransmitters tetrahydroisoquinolines, or TIQs. These TIQs are addictive, and create opiate substances, or an endorphins, which is a stimulant. These TIQs behave similar to cocaine, in their addictiveness, and affects on the brain (Ohlm). In social drinkers, the reaction does not take place and do not create these TIQs, but depress the production of endorphins, therefore feeling bad, having the alcohol act as a depressant. Some people do create these TIQs, and feel good, causing the alcohol to act as a stimulant, which can be addictive and cause alcoholism. To demonstrate the effects of TIQs, rats have been used. There is a strain of genetically engineered rats which detest any alcohol. They would die of thirst before even drinking 3% alcohol. But, when injected with TIQs, the rats prefer drinking 100 proof alcohol over water. This demonstrates the addictiveness, and how the TIQs override other inhibitions. All of these physiological differences provide for increased chances for the occurrence of alcoholism, and all of them could very likely be passed through genetics” (Esser).

In 1987 most reported cases of FAS in the United States came from study sites where the mothers were black or Native American and of low socioeconomic status.  According to the CDC catchment study in 1989, incidences of FAS per 10,000 births were Asians 0.3, Hispanics 0.8, Whites 0.9, Blacks 6.0, and Native Americans 29.9 (Narconon).  Other studies have shown that Native Americans are 33% more likely to have a child with FAS than those of other races (Stump), while the US Department of Health and Human services report that FAS among Native Americans children can be as high as 103 in every 10,000 births (Kellerman).

So the question arises, why is there such a high incidence ratio for Native Americans?  There is, at present, much controversy in the medical community regarding the possible underlying cause(s) for FAS in any culture.  However, Native Americans also have a higher ratio per capita for both those raised within the culture, as well as those not raised within the culture (Streissguth, et al).  Studies are showing that the age-old debate between nature vs. nurture,bears further research into this medical and ethnic phenomenon (Prescott).

While there is no intent to discredit or exclude the rising number of FAS births in other races and cultures, historically FAS has been predominantly unrecognized in Native American families.  But to establish a historical precedent there must be an understanding of the diagnostic tests that are used to determine FAS and the realization that until recently, Native children were less likely to be tested or treated unless raised within a non-native family.  Due to the physical features of Native infants, facial recognition is the least accurate measure of diagnosis; thus the expensive and time-consuming procedures that follow were not utilized for a people whom the government coerced into sterilization procedures in the early 1970’s.  From the government’s prospective, it was easier to intentionally abort hundreds of pregnancies or sterilize over 12,000 Native women, most without their consent or full knowledge of the procedure, than educate them on the dangers of drinking while pregnant  (England).

As is obvious in the following diagram, the physical characteristics of FAS closely resemble those of a normally developed Native American child.  The squat nose, epicanthal eye folds, thin upper lip, and flat midface make it increasingly difficult to diagnose a Native child with FAS unless the maternal drinking habits of the mother are known in advance.  Many of these features become less pronounced at the children grow older.  Children with FAS are more likely to have congenital heart disease, poor coordination, abnormally formed organs and mental retardation (Leung).

A diagram of the different facial dysmorphologies a child with FAS may display

In infants FAS is much easier to diagnose than it is in adolescents and adults.  FAS can be diagnosed when patients have a positive history of maternal alcohol abuse during pregnancy and growth deficiency of prenatal origin (height and/or weight); a pattern of specific minor anomalies that include characteristics generally defined by a small head, lack of vertical ridges between the nose and lip, thin upper lip, narrow eye slits, delayed adjustment, attention deficits, learning disabilities, low IQ, and seizures.  While mental retardation does not always accompany FAS, most patients have major psychosocial problems and adult victims may have difficulty maintaining successful independence.   Other patients, however, may show no physical signs of FAS and diagnosis is not made until much later in life, thus leaving the patient feeling as if he or she were simply a “bad seed.”

Steph Braddock, director of the Missouri Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Center in Columbia, says the ideal time to diagnose FAS is between the ages of eight months and eight years.  “Diagnosis will entail proper screenings and testings to pinpoint the patient’s strengths and weaknesses and ensure the child has a proper intervention plan.   We also want to make sure the mothers are in treatment.  We can’t undo what has happened, but with appropriate intervention, we can provide treatment and, we hope, prevent it from happening again in the future.”  Braddock also says that health care providers may not initially diagnose children with FAS, although many of the neurobehavioral problems exhibited, such as poor communication or memory, may lead to secondary disabilities and behavior problems.  Although the ideal age is commonly overlooked in these diagnostic procedures, Braddock says that children will benefit from screening even if they are older than eight years old (Ghan).

The difficulty with diagnosing adolescents and adults arises as the abnormal physical characteristics eventually give way to normal physiological growth. The physical and mental manifestations of the syndrome in adolescents and adults have remained an important unsolved area of investigation (Steissguth, et al).

(Photo Courtesy of Teresa Kellerman)

How, then, do genetics come into play regarding the higher rate of Native Americans with FAS?  Scientists have known for some time the rate of alcohol metabolism can vary as much as threefold among people with similar drinking habits and recent studies indicate that the development of alcoholism is influenced by both genetic and environmental factors. “It appears that the development of alcoholism is not a case of genetics versus the environment; it is one of genetics and the environment,” says Dr. Ting-Kai Li, distinguished professor of medicine and biochemistry at the Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis. Dr. Li’s research has identified two specific genes that protect against heavy drinking.  These genes are particularly prevalent among Asians.  This research has also shown that Native Americans do not have these protective genes.  The transformation that is particularly effective is a mutation of the gene for the enzyme aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH), which plays a major role in metabolizing alcohol.  Medical research has shown that alcohol is metabolized principally in the liver, where it is converted first to acetaldehyde by the enzyme alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH).  Alcetaldehyde is then converted to acetate by the enzyme aldehyde dehydrogenase (Kibbey).

A genetic study by Denis Lowe Viljoen, head of the department of human genetics at the South African National Health Laboratory Science and University of the Witwatersrand faculty of Health Sciences, has shown the incidence of FAS cases in Native American children to be eight per one thousand, while the rate for the White population was 0.33-2.2 and 2.29 for inner city African Americans.  Amanda Krause, a researcher and associate professor with Mr. Viljoen, states, “There is good scientific evidence that FAS, like virtually all diseases, has some genetic and some environmental influences.”  She points out that ADH is one of two enzymes that act sequentially to metabolize alcohol in the liver and it is ADH that converts alcohol to acetaldehyde (Kibbey).

What these studies have shown is that acetaldehyde produces unpleasant physiological reactions even at low concentration, so the presence or absence of the gene mutation affecting aldehyde dehydrogenase in turn affects drinking behaviors.  When acetaldehyde is not rapidly converted to acetate, the results are dramatic:  a rapid increase in blood flow to the skin of the face, neck, and chest, rapid heartbeat, headache, nausea, and extreme drowsiness occur.  As would be expected, this aversive reaction affects drinking behavior (Streissguth, et al).

A number of researchers have demonstrated that EEG patterns are different in alcoholics and non-alcoholics.  It has been determined that the differences are not that of alcohol use, but that these differences are present at birth in identical twins.  Individuals at risk for alcoholism can be differentiated on the basis of their EEG alpha activity. Alcoholics have greater increases in slow alpha activity and greater decreases of fast alpha activity after use of alcohol; thus a reduced P300 wave is a good predictor of alcoholism.

The following graphic shows the biological deviations that can occur in the brain due to alcohol consumption during pregnancy.  As noted, the corpus callosum in the brain of a normal child shows normal regular growth; while the brain of the child suffering from FAS shows a complete absence of the corpus callosum.  Responsible for maintaining much of the communication between regions in different hemispheres of the brain, the absence of the corpus callosum, known as agenesis of the corpus callosum (ACC) can result in mental retardation, cerebral anomalies, eye anomalies, and epilepsy.  Autopsies of infants diagnosed with FAS have shown evidence that maternal consumption of alcohol during pregnancy directly affects the development of embryonic brain tissue and can easily result in ACC (Indiana University).

Consider the child who portrays no outward physical symptoms of FAS yet shows a substantial retardation in intellectual, social, emotional, and spiritual growth.  Typically, the child would be diagnosed with one of many behavioral disorders (most commonly Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) and medicated while the underlying effects of FAS remain unrecognized, undiagnosed, and summarily untreated.

(Photo courtesy of Christensen)

Recent studies have shown that alcoholism relapse can be predicted by brain waves.  Alcoholics are said to use alcohol, sugar, nicotine, and caffeine in vain attempts to quiet their irritable brain waves (Dapice, et al). It is easy to attribute the issue of genetics coupled with environment and the growing number of Native American children with FAS.  With the number of alcoholic persons of European ancestry rising, it is not difficult to perceive the number of culturally separated or mixed blood Native American children stricken with FAS rising as well.

Statistical data confirms an alarming increase in Native American alcohol addicts.  Mail and Johnson concluded in a 1993 study that “alcohol is the drug of choice among American Indian people,” however, the tragic trend over the years shows recent signs of improvement that bear closer scrutiny.

For those over the age of 12 in 2000, the percentage of “current drinkers” (those who drank in the past month) among the 4 million American Indians and Alaska Natives (35 percent) is much lower than both Whites (51 percent) and Hispanics (40 percent), and only slightly higher than Blacks (34 percent). However, 19 percent of American Indian youth 12 to 17 are past month drinkers—the highest of the major ethnic groups (though the White figure is close—18 percent). For persons over 26, the Native American past month rate is actually the lowest of all. The alcohol abuse problem among American Indians/Alaska Natives appears to be concentrated in the young and the so-called “heavy drinkers” over 26. Binge drinking rates (drinking five or more drinks on one occasion at least once a month) for youth 12 to 17 are highest for Native Americans (12.8 percent do it, versus 11.9 percent for Whites and 11 percent for Blacks). For Native youth who practice “heavy alcohol use” (defined as binge drinking five times a month or more), the rate 1999 to 2000 has declined significantly, from 4.6 percent to 2.9 percent (rates were at least twice as high a decade ago). But after 26, the 7.4 percent rate of heavy alcohol users is highest among Native Americans, and is increasing, while most other groups’ severe use rates are stable or declining (SAMHSA).

And what of nature vs. nurture?  A study involving a 37-year-old mixed blood Native American female shows that nurture can play the same role in the development of alcohol abuse as nature.  Born addicted to alcohol and other drugs, the subject was given up for adoption at birth and placed within a non-native home with no history of alcohol or drug use.  By the age of five, she had taken her first drink of alcohol, stating it was a “familiar and welcomed experience.”  Although she had not been subjected to alcohol in the home, she now believes that she was an alcoholic at birth, but a willing alcoholic by the age of sixteen (Fox).  Abuse was also an issue in the home and research has shown that abusive situations can contribute to the desire for alcohol and other drugs (Dapice, et al).  Subsequently, the subject has a biological family history of substance abuse for at least 13 generations.

Medical tests as an adult for unexplained pain and muscle tremors revealed encephalic characteristics for FAS and childhood photographs portrayed the noted physical characteristics.  Developmental delays, seizures, and a diagnosis of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder as well as other psychosocial and mental diagnoses were concurrent with the systemic disorders associated with FAS (Streissguth, et al) (Dapice, et al).

Typical psychological symptoms of FAS can include immature social development, being overly friendly to strangers, lack of sexual boundaries, emotional liability, poorly developed conscience, lack of consistent impulse control, good expressive language skills, talented in art, music, or mechanics, attention deficit; not always hyperactive, but easily distracted by external stimuli, short-term memory deficits, inappropriate social interactions, difficulty managing money, a poor concept of time, grandiose ideas and unrealistic life goals, distorted perceptions, poor judgment, vulnerability and naiveté (Kellerman).

Children afflicted with FAS are unfortunately at risk for even further psychological and/or psychosocial difficulties as they mature.  Learning processes are interrupted or distorted, making the typical educational system inadequate to successfully instruct and prepare the child for independent adulthood.  In areas such as reservations or inner cities where the majority of Native American children afflicted with FAS are raised, it becomes painfully obvious that limited opportunities, coupled with distinct learning disabilities sentence the child to a life of poverty and an exceedingly high risk of further substance use/abuse as an adult.

The level of distractibility experienced increases with the difficulty of the task at hand.  A link has also been established between FAS and Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD).  85% of children with FAS also have ADD.  In these particular children, the onset is usually earlier, and encompasses more severe developmental, psychiatric, and medical aspects.

Impulsive behavior is another commonly noted characteristic of children with FAS.  These symptoms can manifest by having the children place themselves in dangerous situations where they can find themselves retaliating in anger by verbally or physically means to difficult situations.  This aspect of behavior often diminishes during adolescence.

Memory skills in children with FAS may be affected at three different stages (depending on the length of time the fetus was exposed to alcohol, the degree, and during which trimester(s).  If the sensory abilities were compromised in development, it would affect the children’ ability to take in’” memories.  If the storage abilities were compromised during development, than memories will not be sorted as effectively.  If the retrieval systems were compromised during development; than the child will not always be able to retrieve memories that they have retained.

Finally, FAS children have a particularly hard time remembering sequences of information (Leung).
On a social level, children with FAS are at a distinct disadvantage and often find themselves ostracized by their peers.  FAS children have fewer inner resources for coping with normal stresses and pressures of everyday living.  FAS children also experience more problems in adapting to change and making choices.

Some children with FAS excel in the area of motor skills; these are good activities to build self-esteem and lifelong leisure pursuits for children suffering from FAS.  Others children that suffer from the disorder have significant problems with gross & fine motor skills.  Learning coordinated movements (such as writing) may be more delayed in FAS children.

FAS children experience significant problems in communicating due to the face that they develop their language skills at a slower rate. Often FAS children are observed to use “cocktail party conversation,” fluent words which are void of content.

Ironically, children with FAS are often eager to learn.  This is a resource that must be encouraged and refined from the beginning in order to be maintained.

Amazingly enough, children who suffer from FAS are often creative, musical, and artistically gifted.  Furthermore, artistic activities can greatly expand the range of thoughts, images, and feelings in all children but it is especially helpful for children with FAS.  For instance, music can help the child to perceive, explore, communicate, and reflect upon these things without have to use written form.  These subject areas provide FAS children with other “languages of communication” which they often find easier to use.

Many FAS children have trouble learning science skills and processes. This stems from problem solving deficiencies (deduction and inference).  Also, they may lack the development of fine motor skills that are necessary to manipulate microscopes.  Another common issue with children suffering fro FAS is the inability to understand instructions, or describe observations.

Sequential computation and problem solving also seem to be more difficult for FAS children.  Problems with abstract and complex ideas also make math particularly hard for these children.

Underlying language disabilities can also cause difficulties in this area for children with FAS.  Sound-symbol associations do not come as easily as to their peers.  By intermediate grades, a plateau in reading and writing progression is often reached.  This could include the inability to progress in reading and writing skills causes the expectations of teachers unattainable for these children.  A slowness to develop abstract thinking is another factor that can make reading comprehension hard for these children.  Organizing thoughts in a sequential manner is necessary in writing – another difficult area (Leunng).

Stages of the Developing Fetus
Guidelines of Care for children with Special Health Care Needs
Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and Fetal Alcohol Effects

(Minnesota Department of Health 1999)

The graphs below show the progression of disabilities and life-long complications faced by victims of FAS.  Note the greatest factor of challenge is that of mental health (first graph) combined with a low level of emotional maturity (second graph) which creates the issues lack of boundaries and consequential thinking.

(Adapted from Streissguth, p.108, 1997)
(Adapted from AFM, Undated)

Fetal alcohol syndrome occurs among Alaska Native newborns at twice the national average, and 73 percent of the women who give birth to these FAS children report being sexually abused as a child. Still, Native American resilience has been as legendary as it’s near genocidal history. With a heightened awareness of cultural traditions, prevention specialists have learned some lessons: use American Indians as staff in mental health/substance abuse clinics whenever possible; incorporate cultural concepts and bi-cultural realities within programs; target prevention at early ages (SAMHSA).

While the only prevention for FAS is to abstain from alcohol, it has become apparent that the application of the prevention is not so simple.  There is no borderline too much or too little; one drink is too much during pregnancy and the repercussions are immeasurable and undeniably avoidable.

Addiction is not a cultural pastime for Native Americans, but rather an ignored continuing means of attempted genocide (Dapice, et al).  Lack of education, treatment options, and appropriate counseling for the Native Americans in understanding the cause and consequences of FAS has been the major contributing factor to the ongoing challenge of eradicating this destructive and needless disease that should have never been introduced.

Works Cited

Christensen, Damaris.  Article:   Science News. Washington: Jul 8, 2000. Vol. 158, Iss. 2; p. 28 (2 pages) “Sobering work: Unraveling Alcohol’s Effects on the Developing Brain” Online.  Proquest.  Accessed February 28, 2005.

Dapice, Ann N., PhD; Inkanish, Clark, ICADC; Martin, Barbara, B.S.; Brauchi, Pam, MHR, LPC.  Article:  Native American Times. From The Oklahoma Indian Times, Inc.  “Killing Us Slowly:  When We Can’t Fight, and We Can’t Run.”  Online.  .  Accessed May 9, 2003.

England, Charles R.  “A Look at the Indian Health Service Policy of Sterilization.”  Online.  < http://www.dickshovel.com/IHSSterPol.html >.  Accessed March 02, 2005.

Esser, James.  “Genetic Influences on Alcholism.”  15 May 1997.  Available online at                                < http://www.brainerd.net/~esserste/essays/alcohol.htm >.  Accessed17 March 2005.

Fox, I.G.  “Because I Can.”  Autobiography. Unpublished.  Excerpt.  Chapter 6.   2003.

Ghan, Cheri  Article:  @mizzou.   News From Missouri’s Great State University.  “MU Houses First Fetal Alcohol Clinic.”  Online. < atmizzou.missouri.edu/ jun04/FetalAlcohol.htm >.  Accessed February 28, 2005.

Indiana University.  “Agenesis of the Corpus Callosum, The Literature 01.”  Online.  No author cited.  and .  Accessed March 23, 2005.

Kellerman, Teresa.  Photo Credit.  “FAS and the Brain.”  Online.  < http://www.come-over.to/FAS/FASbrain.htm >, < http://www.come-over.to/FAS/NAFAS.htm >, and  < http://www.come-over.to/ FAS/brochures/ >.  Accessed Febrauary 28, 2005.

Kibbey, Hal.  University of Indiana.  “Genetic Influences on Alcohol Drinking and Alcoholism.”  Online.  .  Accessed February 28, 2005.

Leung, Grace.  “Research Project:  Fetal Alcohol Syndrome & Fetal Alcohol Effects.”  Online.  .  Accessed March 23, 2005.

Narconon.  “Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.”  Narconon of Oklahoma.  Article.  Online. < http://www.stopaddiction.com/narconon_alcohol_fetal.html&gt;.  Accessed February 28, 2005.

Prescott, Carol A.  Virginia Institute for Psychiatric and Behavioral Genetics.   “Nature vs. Nurture in Progression to Alcoholism.”  The Brown University Digest of Addiction Theory and Application.  October 1999 v18 i10 p5.  Article.  Online. Infotrac:  Health Reference Center – Academic.  Accessed February 28, 2005.

Streissguth, Ann Pytkowicz; Aase, Jon M.; Clarren, Sterling K.; Randels, Sandra P.; LaDue, Robin A.; and Smith, David L. “Fetal Alcohol Syndrome in Adolescents and Adults.”  The Journal of American Medical Association, April 17, 1991 v265 n15 p1961.  Article. Online. Infotrac: Health Reference Center – Academic.  Article A10666511.  Accessed February 28, 2005.

Stump, Dan.  “Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and Other Drug-Related Birth Defects.”  Online.  < http://www.msu.edu/~stumpdan/hs/fas.htm >.  Accessed Febrauary 28, 2005.

U.S. DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration Center for Substance Abuse Prevention (SAMHSA).  Prevention Alert.  “American Indians/Alaska Natives and Substance Abuse.”  Volume 5, Number 16 November 22, 2002.  Accessed 17 March 2005. < http://ncadi.samhsa.gov/govpubs/prevalert/v5/10.aspx >.

 
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