Culturally Rooted Indigenous Mental Health Practices and Peer Support

Written by Ellenhorn NY PACT Peer Specialist, Tony Muñoz-Hilliard

Peer support, often known as mutual aid, has an enduring history that spans generations. It’s crucial to acknowledge the multifaceted histories when discussing peer support, as prevailing narratives tend to prioritize a specific white, colonized history at the expense of others.

The advent of white settler-colonialism brought forth deliberate attempts to erase Indigenous healing practices, without establishing culturally responsive state-funded support for Indigenous, Black, and Brown communities. Peer support emerged as a response to the absence of accessible or non-harmful mental health systems.

Indigenous healing methodologies revolve around the concept that healing encompasses the entire person, encompassing the physical, mental, and spiritual aspects, rather than solely focusing on the physical body. Healers often seek the underlying reasons for an illness and employ diverse techniques to address these multifaceted dimensions of the issue.

Traditional Indigenous medicine emphasizes collective healing, viewing it as beneficial for the entire group rather than an individual pursuit. The wellness of a community is intricately tied to the well-being of its individual members.

Indigenous communities embrace a diverse spectrum of healing modalities. This includes practices like sweat lodges, herbal medicine, and massage, typically conducted by respected community figures such as elders.

Healers play a vital role in reconnecting individuals to their cultural heritage and fostering community bonds. Rituals serve as potent tools for healing from trauma and loss. Indigenous communities have historically utilized healing stories, songs, dances, and traditional ceremonies to aid in healing processes, addressing trauma, illness, and significant life transitions.

Community-based healing serves as a formidable means for Indigenous peoples to navigate the enduring impacts of colonialism and trauma. It not only facilitates personal healing but also fortifies cultural resilience and identity.

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