NAIGSO’s Vision of AA Service to Native Americans
Our early mission statement stated, “To provide a vision of service by the Native American Indian General Service Office (NAIGSO-AA) to the more than 500 sovereign Indian Nations in North America recognized by state governments and the Federal Government. The structure of the fellowship is in a form as to become attractive to the alcoholic Native American Indian. NAIGSO-AA recognizes the need for each Nation, tribe, and band to honor their spiritual customs and traditions and to base recovery on those living principles. The form of these spiritual customs and traditions cannot be separated from the social aspects of daily living and thus it cannot be separated from the structure and form of AA. This applies to individuals in recovery, to the AA group, and to NAIGSO-AA as a whole.
It is our vision to make all of the social aspects of our natural gatherings available for AA meetings and fellowship. This includes but is not limited to pot luck dinner meetings, pow wows, camp meetings, encampments, conventions, and conferences. Each group is free in the tradition of AA to incorporate their own traditional ways into the format of their meetings. At these gatherings, representatives assigned, elected, or appointed by their AA group will meet and exchange information which may then be communicated to the NAIGSO-AA.
The diagram shown in the link is a design of the structure of the AA fellowship for the Native American Indian. The outer circle represents the universe of the Indian Nations of North America. NAIGSO-AA is available to and has sent communications introducing itself to almost all Indian Nations at this time. This configuration is a dynamic representation of all the entities that are moving and interacting with each other through the meetings, pow wows, conventions, conferences, gatherings, etc. Although the NAIGSO-AA is shown at the center of the circle, it is always in touch and available to all individuals and groups. It is expected that NAIGSO-AA representatives will be available at these events. It is our intention to provide a service organization that is able to evolve and grow to meet the needs of those it serves. This is only a beginning and we expect the Creator to continue to direct us all in the development and success of NAIGSO-AA as time goes by.
NAIGSO-AA was formed to
create an AA service structure comfortable to Indian peoples based on a vision
given to Earl, a Paiute Indian. In this vision Earl saw Indian people coming
together to celebrate their sobriety and the customs and traditions of their
own nations. Earl saw the need to hold a National and International Native
American AA Convention so he formed a planning committee and the very first
convention was held in Las Vegas, NV in 1991 and has continued to be held
annually ever since.
In his vision Earl saw the need of Indian peoples to have representation at the World Service level of Alcoholics Anonymous. So he suggested and supported the formation of the Native American Indian General Service Office of Alcoholics Anonymous. Earl and several others formed the original board of directors. Earl was then kicked off the AA convention committee; he originally formed, because of his involvement in NAIGSO- AA. But Earl continued to follow his vision despite the feelings of those committee members. Because Earl stood steadfast to that vision, NAIGSO-AA, the National-International Native American AA convention, and the Wellbriety movement (formed by another Indian AA member who understands the needs of Indian peoples and whose ideas are also rejected by New York AA GSO) have all came about as legacies of Earl’s vision and are three of the legs (directions) holding up the stool (circle) of recovery for Native Americans.
Recovery from alcoholism through Native American traditions and customs and the principals of Alcoholics Anonymous are not only alive and well, but thriving in Indian Country. These facts were recently documented in an article in Box 459, volume 62, Spring 2016, an AA GSO publication. This was a history making action by New York GSO, the written documentation of the validity of Earl’s vision and Indian peoples’ need to seek and find sobriety through their own customs and traditions. But as is the way of AA, it is slow to change and much work still needs to be done. Thus NAIGSO-AA still functions to provide AA service to Native Americans.
After many decades of struggle and misunderstanding between New York AA GSO and NAIGSO-AA it was decided to follow the wisdom of Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce Nation and we have chosen to “fight no more” for recognition in the AA World Service structure. Today, we function strictly as an AA service entity to Native Americans and all alcoholics who find the connection they need to get and stay sober through the spiritual principals embodied in Indian culture and tradition, maintaining a database of Native American AA groups, a Loners’ directory, a Calendar of Indian AA events, and to publish and distribute the meditations manuscript, “Daily Readings From the AA Lodge.”
The printing, free-of-charge distribution, and approval of this manuscript by AA, as a whole, have become the very heart of the NAIGSO-AA vision. The wisdom of our elders and the principals of Alcoholics Anonymous have been brought together in a way that speaks deeply to Indian peoples seeking sobriety. It has become the fourth leg (fourth direction) of Earl’s vision. It has broken through one of the major hurtles in carrying the AA message to Native Americans- “AA is a Whiteman’s program.” Over the last decade we have sent out over one thousand manuscripts. They are being sent out to AA members around the world seeking approval and to carry the AA message. This leg of Earl’s vision is being paid for by the many faithful financial contributions of AA members from all around the world. It is the instrument that has truly made us an AA World Service entity and is the fourth leg or direction of the Indian AA recovery circle or stool. A stool will stand on three legs but can be a little wobbly. When you add the fourth leg the circle is complete and the stool is very hard to tip over.
No stool or circle is complete or effective without a seat or center. The seat of the Native American recovery circle is made up of all the sober folks carrying the AA recovery message to the Native Nations. This is true whether the AA message is being carried in a formal AA meeting or at a pow-wow, around a Spirit Fire, during a sweatlodge, through a sacred pipe or any other Native American spiritual ceremony or gathering. The real center of the AA program is one drunk talking to another drunk. It does not matter where or how, provided it is done only “to stay sober and to help another alcoholic achieve sobriety.”
In 1954 Bernard Smith, late chairman of AA’s General Service Board, addressed the question:
Why Do We Need a Conference?
“We may not need a General Service Conference to ensure our own recovery. We do need it to ensure the recovery of the alcoholic who still stumbles in the darkness one short block from this room. We need it to ensure the recovery of a child being born tonight, destined for alcoholism. We need it to provide, in keeping with our Twelfth Step, a permanent haven for all alcoholics who, in the ages ahead, can find in A.A. that rebirth that brought us back to life.
“We need it because we, more than others, are conscious of the devastating effect of the human urge for power and prestige, which we must endure, can never invade A.A. We need it to ensure A.A. against government, while insulating it against anarchy; we need it to protect A.A. against disintegration while preventing overintegration. We need it so that Alcoholics Anonymous, and Alcoholics Anonymous alone, is the ultimate repository of its Twelve Steps, its Twelve Traditions, and all of its services.
“We need it to ensure that changes within A.A. come only as a response to the needs and the wants of all A.A., and not of any few. We need it to ensure that the doors of the halls of A.A. never have locks on them, so that all people for all time who have an alcoholic problem may enter these halls unasked and feel welcome. We need it to ensure that Alcoholics Anonymous never asks of anyone who needs us what his or her race is, what his or her creed is, what his or her social position is.” (AA Service Manual, page S19, 1999-2000 edition)
Despite Bernard’s bold words there exists a need in AA for more understanding of the barriers of carrying the AA message, as presented in AA’s conference-approved literature, to many Native peoples. There is a need to add new dimensions and dynamics to the AA message in order to reach a people who have had their identities stripped from them by invaders, their homes destroyed and then locked up on reservations (insert “prison camps”,) peoples who have been punished for speaking their own language and forbidden to practice their spiritual customs and traditions. Native Americans suffer a rate of alcoholism 10 times higher than mainstream American society. AA seems to flourish worldwide, yet, struggles to carry its message to Native Americans. Perhaps this because AA clings too tightly to its own words, "the tremendous fact for every one of us is that we have discovered a common solution. We have a way out on which we can absolutely agree, and upon which we can join in brotherly and harmonious action." (Alcoholics Anonymous, page 17) Or perhaps, maybe it is because they don’t cling tightly enough?
So Earl was given a vision to begin the process of “Bridging the Gap.” Earl’s vision is growing and Bernard’s bold words are beginning to be take root in Native American communities. However, alcoholism, abuse and other manifestations of spiritual disease are still destroying Native Americans every day. Some will say that AA must stick to its “singleness of purpose,” yet in its own literature it speaks of “bottles being a symbol of much deeper problems” and “the need to get down to causes and conditions.”
In “The Doctor’s Opinion,” found in the front of AA’s basic text, “Alcoholics Anonymous,” Dr. William D Silkworth speaks about the different types of alcoholics, the psychopaths, those unwilling to admit they cannot take even one drink, those who are entirely normal folk except in the effect alcohol has upon them, and the manic-depressive type about whom a whole chapter could be written. In the Indian world perhaps there are also several types. Maybe there is the full-blood traditional Indian, who experiences the world in a way so that he is unable to understand the Euro-Christian terms used in AA literature, the type who has chosen to stay in the poverty, abuse and desolation found on many reservations because he was raised to believe tribe and family come first, the mixed blood that is not accepted by full-bloods or whites, the urban Indian who has become bi-cultural, has found sobriety in the Whiteman’s AA program and does not understand why the other types aren’t getting sober that way. And maybe there is another type who was raised in the Whiteman’s world and does not know he suffers from the same spiritual darkness many Indians do, perhaps he is a descendent of an ancestor who was abused in a Boarding School then adopted out to a white family. Perhaps a whole chapter needs to be written about him too?
Well, just maybe, a whole chapter has been written about all types of Indian alcoholics. And maybe, all alcoholics can find a rebirth in AA and the halls of AA will become unlocked so anyone with an alcohol problem may enter unasked and feel welcome. And maybe, in the Indian way, it was written as a result of the vision given to a Paiute Indian called Earl Lent, Jr.
And maybe, one day at a time, AA is slowly accepting the message found in its own literature, “Our book is meant to be suggestive only. We realize we know only a little. God will constantly disclose more to you and to us. Ask Him in your morning meditation what you can do each day for the man who is still sick. The answers will come, if your own house is in order. But obviously you cannot transmit something you haven’t got. See to it that your relationship with Him is right, and great events will come to pass for you and countless others. This is the Great Fact for us.” (Alcoholics Anonymous, page 164)
At the 2000 International AA Convention a Native American elder was allowed to carry the Eagle Staff in the Parade of Flags opening ceremony, another first in AA history. Today, NAIGSO-AA still supports Earl’s vision of AA service, the AA circle of love continues to expand and the “language of the heart” is still being spoken in Alcoholics Anonymous and all four legs (directions) of Earl’s vision of AA service are functioning to provide AA service to Native Americans.
Last updated September 28, 2019