The Healing Forest

Here are some wise words from someone I hold in very high regard, Don Coyhis.

Don, who grew up on a Mohican reservation in Wisconsin in the US, spent over 25 years developing The Wellbriety Movement and White Bison, spreading a healing message amongst Native Indian communities, based on cultural principles, laws and values. Here is his idea of The Healing Forest – this idea makes so much sense.

‘Suppose you have a hundred-acre forest and in that forest there is disease or sickness. All the trees are sick. It is a sick forest. Suppose, then, you go to the forest one day and you take one of those sick trees and temporarily uproot it and put it under your arm.

You walk down a road and you put it in a nursery where there is good soil. Or, you take a young person. You take them out of the community and you put them in treatment.

So now you have this tree in good soil, and it gets healthy because it is getting sun and rain. It is getting well. It is turning green. You get this tree to be well and you take this well tree back to the sick forest. What happens if we take a well tree back to a sick forest? It gets sick again.

It means that we must actively heal the community and its institutions at the same time an individual works on his or her own healing from alcohol or drugs or other unwell behaviours. The individual affects the community and the community affects the individual. They are inseparable from the point of view of addiction recovery. Everything must be in the healing process simultaneously.” Don Coyhis and Richard Simonelli

You can imagine a person who has a serious substance use problem (alcohol, ‘street’ drugs, or prescription drugs, or a combination of all three) who is sent to a drug addiction treatment centre outside of their own community.

After completing the treatment program they return to their community, the place where the substance use problem will likely have developed. Although the person may have changed, the factors present in the community that contributed to the development of the problem, or which acted as barriers to recovery (e.g. stigma, prejudice, no possibility of employment), likely remain the same.    

The article, The Native American Healing Experience by Don Coyhis and Richard Simonelli is well worth a read. I leave you with an excellent short film clip about Don’s life, made when he won the 2009 Purpose Prize. 

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