Even still, the history of this land is largely falsified to the masses. Children everywhere still learn obscured accounts of the relationship between Pilgrims and Indigenous people in school and through holidays like Thanksgiving.
The annihilation of indigenous culture has led to an accumulation of grief, often referred to as Soul Wounds, that is extremely apparent amongst Indigenous populations today. According to the US National Library of Medicine, "Indigenous populations generally have a lower life expectancy than non-indigenous populations, a higher incidence of most diseases (for example, diabetes, mental disorders, cancers), and experience of third world diseases (tuberculosis, rheumatic fever) in developed countries, current indigenous health status can be grouped into four main propositions: genetic vulnerability, socioeconomic disadvantage, resource alienation, and political oppression,".
Beginning to untangle the complex web of problems that face Indigenous people today is no easy task, but experts and educators across the country are attempting to tackle this and help the Indigenous population get back to a better place.
Jaime Geronimo Vela is a Graduate student at the University of California Los Angeles, author, and Indigenous documentarian. Vela believes the best way to resolve issues Indigenous people currently face today is through revisiting their ancestral ways of life. "Health experts tell these people what foods to eat, to go to the gym, things like that. Well, the food they advise doesn't grow on reservations, they dont have the money to buy it from stores, and the closest gym is 50 miles away. We need to come up with solutions that will actually work for these people," said Vela. He also insists that practicing balance, harmony, and tradition can benefit those in need. "Those are the three most important things. Tradition helps us find harmony inside ourselves which is part of our natural balance with the world." said Vela.
Traditionally, Indigenous people think of themselves as a part of the greater good. They operate in communal societies where each member has a specific role - all holding similar value to the community, they believe in respect being based off of ancestral lineage, and even view themselves as a part of the earth in spiritual contexts. This belief is an integral part of Indigenous existence and Gene Hightower, a psychologist and previous director of mental health services at the Native American Health Center in Oakland, California believes its resurgence amongst native populations is vital for long term success.
For Hightower, this came from his experiences with a Choctaw medicine man by the name of Beaver, who sadly passed away in 2008. Beaver was a victim of the boarding school system and also served in combat during World War II, the trauma he dealt with from his experiences led him down a road of alcohol abuse. "he just really came to feel that, the only way Indian people would find themselves as by sticking to their own cultural values, they couldn't really adopt a white way of living," said Hightower when speaking about Beaver's approach to rehabilitation.
Hightower believes Beaver reconnecting with his roots was essential for his progression. "It was very much seen as finding a higher power than the alcohol or the drugs to turn over too. It's to get you closer to the creator. To the point that you feel some more joy in your life and you're willing to contribute to other people in the community. It's never just all about yourself," said Hightower.
Faith in something larger than oneself has been a common theme amongst numerous cultures. While most are not only accepted, but appreciated, the Indigenous way of life and spirituality was almost pushed to a point of extinction. Despite this, their belief and themselves, and their greater purpose, lives on.