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Traditional Navajo Approach to Meth and Suicide Prevention

The Tsehootsooi Medical Center Methamphetamine and Suicide Prevention Initiative (MSPI) uses culture to teach coping skills, build community connectedness, and instill hope and resiliency in those they serve.

By using language, culture and tradition, the Tsehootsooi Medical Center (TMC) MSPI Staff are able to tap into the tremendous strengths already present in the community. Using this strengths-based approach, the MSPI staff members strive to build the protective factors that will help keep those they serve safe from substance abuse and depression.

For example, the TMC MSPI project works to develop Navajo cultural programs and curriculums that incorporate Navajo language. These programs reinforce cultural knowledge and practice while also preventing the loss of the language. For those community members unfamiliar with traditional culture, language, and lifestyle, the MSPI community events provide an opportunity to increase the baseline level of traditional knowledge and thus raise the community level of Hozho (balance). Matthew Tafoya, MSPI Community Involvement Coordinator, explained the approach. "We can't fix the past but we can take active steps to present options to people that are based on traditional concepts and thus reconnect the disconnected."

Maintaining and restoring language are critical components of preserving the values of culture and the concepts attached to the language. To help realize this goal, TMC MSPI hosts events like the Youth Culture Festival where traditional Navajo ontological concepts like Sa'ah Naaghai Bik'eh Hozhoon can be explained in both English and Navajo. By exploring the meaning of Sa'ah Naaghai Bik'eh Hozhoon with Elders and those who have held on to cultural knowledge, event participants are introduced to the concept of life as a path or journey to old age, filled with rewards and challenges, which requires thoughtful preparation and life skills, so that challenges can be overcome. The concept of Sa'ah Naaghai Bik'eh Hozhoon also includes the idea that we are the product of our father and mother and we inherit their protection and beauty, which enables us to move forward on our life's journey.

Explaining concepts in English allows those who do not know Navajo to connect with the ideas and values embedded in the language. Presenting the concepts in Navajo gives participants the knowledge as it is meant to be transmitted. Events also often include hands-on activities like butchering, pottery, bow guard making, or other traditional activities. By demonstrating these activities, and giving people the chance to experience what their ancestors did hundreds of years ago, the MSPI events are able to foster connections to culture, and foster connections among community members.

"These experiences are important," Mr. Tafoya explained. "Our traditional skills are our shared inheritance. They are the thread that links us to our creation and bind us together as Children of the Holy People. We believe that traditional knowledge is not complete until it is passed on, and that is part of our job at MSPI -- to build connectedness, resiliency and to instill hope using our traditional teachings."

For more information on the Tsehootsooi Medical Center MSPI project, please contact MSPI COmmunity Project Coordinator Matthew Tafoya at [email protected]