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Native American Veterans - Storytelling for Healing

Published: October 3, 2012
Native Veterans

The Healing Power of Stories

Native Veterans, from the top: Billy Richards, Native Hawaiian, Marines, Vietnam; Terry Medicine Crow, Lakota/Crow, Navy, Operat

Storytelling has often played an essential part in healing in indigenous cultures. Stories that heal contain many of the values that are an important part of many native cultures. These values include, but are not limited to: acceptance, courage, truth, and spirituality. When these are in place, some individuals can begin to make meaning of their experiences. Through talking circles or other means of discussing military service, one can often recognize how storytelling is critical to the healing of emotional wounds for veterans. Western culture has begun to recognize the value of ceremony and the healing power of the narrative as tools in modern behavioral health practice. As they become understood, these indigenous healing methods are gaining respect as powerful tools for healing.

Stories can be gathered in a variety of ways depending on the purpose and resources. Most tribal colleges now have computer classes and labs to coordinate and support the capturing of stories. There are also websites and software available to create digital stories that can be placed on tribal websites. The Library of Congress maintains a participatory website where all veterans can upload photographs and tell stories at: http://www.loc.gov/vets . Methods for gathering and preserving veterans’ stories can be complex or basic; approaches by communities include:

  • Utilizing talking circles or sweat lodge ceremonies specifically for veterans.
  • Reviving (in some cases continuing) the practice of ceremonies or dances in honor of veterans where the accomplishments of the veteran are told by tribal/spiritual leaders.
  • Encouraging students to interview veterans as a history project and create a booklet of the interviews for distribution.
  • Researching one’s community or tribe by gathering family photos or other memorabilia of loved ones who have served in the military. These items can be copied or scanned to create community scrapbooks or displays for inclusion in a community history event coinciding with Veterans Day or Memorial Day.

Billy Richards, Native Hawaiian, Marines, VietnamTerry Medicine Crow, Lakota/Crow, Navy, Operation Desert Storm

Last Reviewed: October 4, 2016