Walking the Red Road of Wellness

Man hiking in British Columbia

Honesty. Compassion. Respect. Humility. Many of the guiding values of the Red Road way of life—a Native American path of wellness, balance and spirituality—parallel Twelve Step recovery principles and practices. "The Red Road is a path of human wellness, and everyone is invited," says clinical innovator and addiction counselor Albert Titman, Sr. Listen in as he discusses culturally integrated addiction treatment and recovery approaches that incorporate medicine wheel lessons and holistic care.

A chance to make right the wrong. So we—we're making amends. But, to ourself first. We've gotta start there

Albert Titman

0:00:11 Andrew Williams
Welcome to Let's Talk Recovery Equity, a series of conversations around how we can reach and help more people find freedom from addiction. This series offers us a space to reflect on some of the complexities of substance use disorder and mental health. While also discussing new pathways to hope, recovery, and healing. My name is Andrew Williams and I serve as the Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation. And I'm the host of our series. Today, I'm excited to welcome Albert Titman as our guest. Albert serves as a Wellness Counselor at the Shingle Springs Band of Miwok Indians. And also serves as Associate Director of Cultural Integration and Development at the Springer Behavioral Medicine for the TeleWell Indian Health MAT project. He also serves as Chairman of the Board of Directors with the Native Dads Network. He is also currently a trainer for the White Bison's Wellbriety Training Institute and has over 18 years of experience in implementing the Medicine Wheel and Twelve Steps program in Native communities. So thank you, Albert, for joining us today.

0:01:24 Albert Titman
[introduces himself in Native language]
So thank you and welcome! All my relatives. My name is Albert Titman, my tribal heritage is Nisenan Miwok [speaks in Miwok language] band the Pitt River Nation, we're Bear Clan people. And this is an honor to be here. I really wanna think Hazelden Betty Ford and you, Andrew, for inviting me to be a guest today.

0:01:55 Andrew Williams
Well it's an honor to have you as a guest in our show and definitely appreciate your time and the generosity of spirit. That you've offered us in agreeing to be interviewed today for our show. And appreciate your introduction and if you don't mind, why don't we build on your introduction a little bit more and give our audience a chance to get to know you a little bit better. Perhaps remind us again of our tribal identity. And importantly, share with us your pathway to the healing work that you do in Native communities. Kind of what inspires you, what fuels your passion and strength for this work.

0:02:28 Albert Titman
Absolutely. Yeah, again, those are my tribal heritages. My father is an inroad member of the Ione Band of Miwok and Nisenan people. My grandmother, my grandmother's side are Madesi Band of the Pit River Nation, which is a little farther north near Shasta, up that way. And one of my grandfathers which is also Nisenan and Maidu descent. And we say Bear Clan people, it's just one of the clans, and many clans for our tribal nation. And what it really means is we believe in the medicine that the Spirit of our Bear People, our relatives, carry. And so ceremonially, we acknowledge that bear when he wakes up in the springtime and when he goes to sleep in the winter. There are teachings and lessons that we learn on how to walk in this world from those teachings. And so, what it means is we follow those ceremonial ways. I am a husband, I've been with my wife 31 years this year. I'm a father of five. All of our children are grown and we have 15 grandbabies. [Andrew smiles] And I'm someone in long-term abstinence from substance use. With 21 years—I celebrate 21 years this year, January 2nd. [smiles] Is my sobriety date. And because January 1st was a party day and so, that was when I woke up and said, 'It's time to start new.' [chuckles] And I've kept that commitment and what inspires me is exactly what I shared with you. Is my family, you know, making—learning over time how to make amends to them. And to maintain those amends. And also to my tribal community, you know? We have a rich history in this society of things that have happened, that almost exterminated us as a people. But here we are, we're still here, through our resiliency, our healing, our wellness, and we say our recovery. We get to share. We strive to teach the next seven generations. And so, those are some of the things that inspire me.

0:04:55 Albert Titman
I've been working in the field of healing, wellness, and recovery for the past you know 20 years I would say. I started off on my own journey of healing and wellness and that shift in my life from working outdoors to finding a path that was laid down in front of me with some relationships to elders who have been working in the field that guided me to work in the field of healing and wellness in recovery. So I started off in transitional living for families, did an internship at a detox center here in Sacramento. I through my own journey went back to school, earned a degree in Addiction Counseling in Human Services, and landed a position in the Behavioral Health Department at the Sacramento Native American Health Center. I've been working there for 15 years, recently retired from there, At Demand is the Behavioral Health program there. Worked at Shingle Springs—I'm no longer there so I have to update my bio. But I just stepped down from there to go full-time with the Native Dads Network. And all the while, in clinical practice. About seven years ago or five years ago, met with Dr. David Springer who'd been working in Indian Health for many, many years. In developing, implementing, directing, supervising Native programs through the Indian Health Service. And he's the one that founded the TeleWell Indian Health MAT project and asked if I would come and help with the cultural integration. And we began that journey together. And of course he's an Addiction Psychiatrist. And he started the Telemedicine program for tribal communities so we were reaching rural and tribal communities. And that just became another passion. And we were developing integrated approaches to healing wellness in recovery for opioid use disorder and it just took off.

0:07:18 Albert Titman
And then the pandemic happened, and it exploded. It really just you know the whole world went on Telehealth it seemed. [chuckles] Everyone went to Zoom like we're on Zoom right now, right? And so we were a little bit ahead of the game. And so that's been really a passion of mine to keep that going. So I mean, I could talk all day but that's just the nutshell.

0:07:40 Andrew Williams
No, no, I appreciate the more extended introduction and giving us a chance to learn more about your pathway to the healing work that you do. And before I say anything else I just wanna offer my congratulations on your celebration of what it sounds like your 21st year of being in recovery. So congratulations on that milestone, and I really do appreciate the vulnerability of sharing that with me and our audience. That you've walked the walk, right, that you've been through the healing journey that you're helping to guide others through now. So I appreciate that level of vulnerability and what you've highlighted along the way around kind of what really fuels and sparks the work that you do. And I hear this deep radical ethic of care for your community. And this deep love of culture, you know. And I'm struck by one of the phrases you used and you talked about the work that really kinda sparks you is this work around cultural integration. And you know as I've read more about you and the work that you do, with White Bison and other contexts, it's clear you've been on the forefront of this kind of cultural integration work. And really kind of creating hybrid models that integrate culturally specific healing modalities in with the traditional Twelve Step model. I'm wondering if you speak to a little bit more around this concept of culturally specific kind of care and what does this kind of cultural integration look like in the work that you've done?

0:09:05 Albert Titman
Oh, absolutely. And thank you, Mr. Williams, for allowing me to share a little bit of our culture, our heart, our spirit, with you. You know I share that I've been walking this journey for 21 years and that means 21 years consistently. One day at a time, one moment at a time. But I've been working on it for like 30 years. [Both chuckle] So I was introduced to recovery in the 90s, you know? And as the Native man, you know, I've always known I am Native, I'm tribal, I'm Miwok, I'm Nisenan. So we were always told that growing up, you know, on both sides of our families. My mom's also a Latina, so we were always knowing we were indigenous. It wasn't until I was introduced to the pathway of recovery that I found White Bison. White Bison is an organization that develops curriculum-based interventions for tribal community. Specifically and originally around SUD recovery, like substance use disorder, alcoholism, and other drugs. And Don Korus is the Founder of White Bison Incorporated. And the first curriculum that they developed was called Walking the Red Road: The Medicine Wheel and the Twelve Steps. And so, I've been to AA and NA and I learned the foundation of recovery. But it just seems for a lot of us tribal people—I can't speak for everyone but for a lot of us, when we got to the God part, you know, it's like, a God of our understanding, then something changed, something shifted. And how Don explains it on his reservation is that a lot of the tribal people get to that place in AA or NA and they would walk away. [holds hands up, backs up] And what we realized it was there is a rich history of what happened to tribal people in this country around forced religion. And boarding school. Forced relocation. And so, a lot of our relatives, what we have come to understand is this complex and compound layer of trauma and traumatic events that made it even more difficult for some of our relatives to stay in the rooms where it felt like we're in church. And so, the Medicine Wheel and Twelve Steps. Or, walking the Red Road is a way—an indigenous way of living. Walking the red road teaches us the principles that we find in AA: honesty, hope, courage, faith, forgiveness. You know, all of those—being of service. Those are Red Road principles. You learn that, just culturally, following the Red Road. And if you follow Sundance teachings. If you follow sweat lodge teachings. Roundhouse here in California. The Bear Clan ceremonial way. You're learning the similar principles. And so what Don realized is AA works! If you work it, right? [smiles big] And what I learned is in AA, I worked the Steps. But what AA and NA helped me do was find a path of my understanding. And that's Red Road.

0:12:37 Albert Titman
And the blessing is Don already had been there and done it, he's our Elder now. He's I think 80 years old this year, 81. And he developed this curriculum that integrated the Twelve Steps of AA to the Red Road teachings and the Medicine Wheel. And it just makes so much sense. And so that—that is what has grounded me. On my journey of this past 21 years. Is I still attend meetings here and there, but we, you know, our path now is Red Road. And it's a path of healing wellness and everyone is invited. You are, Mr. Williams, you're invited to the Red Road, everyone is. It's not just for Native people anymore. We open this path especially as it relates to, you know, recovery programs, healing circles, talking circles, wellness, we invite you to come and be a part of it and let us share that with you.

0:13:40 Andrew Williams
And I certainly appreciate the invitation and your inclusive spirit. And I even from what you've shared so far, I understand how that invitation, right, is deeply grounded in this connection that we're all relatives and all connected. And so I appreciate that and appreciate the ways in which you highlight the ways in which there is this fusion led by Native leaders, right, to integrate some of the grounding principles of Twelve Step with the Red Road in terms of some of the foundational values and principles. You know, my background and training is as a Cultural Anthropologist--

0:14:16 Albert Titman
Mmm. [nods]

0:14:17 Andrew Williams
And I really believe in like a thick description of communities. And I've always wanted to—I got into Anthropology because of my interest in indigenous knowledge and indigenous wisdom, and sensed that we had something to learn from indigenous people from all around the world. [Albert nods] And you've kind of given us a window into the conceptual universe of the Red Road. But what does it look like, what does it sound like and feel like, when you're in that path, when you're in, right, a treatment space that's really kind of adopted this kind of model of cultural integration? It's kind of what I hear you saying is partly it's grounded in the cultural traditions. And it looks at Native people as not from a deficit perspective but having cultural resources and strengths, right, that can spark and fuel us toward recovery.

0:15:09 Albert Titman
[blows river sage smoke to demonstrate]
This is a little bit of what it looks like. So tonight, we're hosting our family wellness circle. And our family wellness circle is grounded in Red Road principles. Healing, wellness, walking this Red Path of life. And we burn medicine. And when we say medicine, our herbal remedies. So I'm burning what we call river sage, mugwort, kachina in our language. What that specifically means is medicine. So we burn medicine, we clean our spirit, just spiritual cleansing. [gestures with hands over head] We ask the Creator to clean our thoughts today. Help me see goodness in the world, help me speak goodness. Help me filter in the good things and help me filter out all that negativity that's trying to follow me around and come into my heart. So we set that intention, we get centered and grounded. It's one of the first things we do when we come together in space walking this Red Road. And so tonight, we will do that. I have what's called a Takata right here [holds up to camera], it's literally simply a rattle. And so, we sing our songs, our songs are prayer songs, so this is how we connect to a God of our understanding. Our Higher Power, our Creator. So our program is a spiritual program. Some might say, 'Oh it's a religious,' well it is because it's what we believe. It's what helps us stay centered and grounded. Every day! So, the Red Road way literally we teach—teaching our young ones now. We're teaching the relatives that come for help in learning to walk a life of abstinence. We say we're gonna face the East direction every day to sunrise. That's what it looks like. Face the morning sun. And it signifies another chance. Another opportunity, a rebirth in a sense. A chance to make right the wrong. So we—we're making amends. But, to ourself first. We've gotta start there. And so we offer these songs, we rattle them in, and that's what it sounds like. [demonstrates shaking rattle] If you could smell my medicine, you would know that's what—that's what it smells like. So all of our olfactory senses are involved in our healing and wellness. And over our recovery. And so that—that's you know kind of a brief intro. If you were to come tonight, and be a part of our Family Circle, where we invite the mothers, the fathers, the grandmas, the grandpas, all the babies. The children, the youth. To come. And while the men are learning what the men learn, the women are learning what the women are learning, the kids are ticking and they're taught—but they're all being taught at their age and their stage. So when they get back in the car and then go home, they're talking about the same teachings. It's really powerful; it's kinda like celebrating families. [smiles, leans into camera]

0:18:15 Andrew Williams
Yes. Albert, thank you so much for a very thick description, right, for what it means to be wrapped in the care and the love of community. [Albert nods] And what it means and what the lived experience of coming together on the Red Road toward healing. And what I also take away from what you shared is a holistic approach that is grounded in culture, but also understands that family and community are also part of the medicine, right?

But what might be a message, a word of care or motivation, that you can share with anyone listening, in Native communities or even beyond, who are struggling with addiction, who have loved ones, friends, family, who are struggling. Any words for them?

0:19:05 Albert Titman
Absolutely. You know, the road of life we call it walking this Red Road. We lay it on the foundation of culture, spirituality, and ceremonial practice. For all human beings. For all human beings we lay that foundation there. It could be burdensome at times. It could be a blessing at times. So what we're learning is we're drawing all of that knowledge forward through the layers of trauma. Intergenerational, generational, and we're calling on the spirit of those ancestors as well that survive. That brought resiliency, that kept our language alive, kept us—these ceremonies alive. For us to have. And so, we're working on intergenerational healing. Generational healing. We're sharing this message for the next seven generations forward. We learn from the generations behind us the experience, the lot of shame, guilt, trauma, that they pass forth these teachings so that we can begin the healing. So that our great, great, great grandchildren, may they live in wellness, they live in harmony, they live in balance. And so, we learn from the polarity up, down, high, low, brings balance, harmony, back to our life. That's what walking this Red Road is. That's what we say. And we do that—we do that every day. There's not a day we can afford to take off anymore. On this journey of healing, wellness, and recovery. Specifically from substance use disorder. But just in general, when we talk about whole person care, it's taking care of our whole self. Mind, body, spirit. Emotionally, mentally, physically, spiritually. And there is a way we do that every day. Every day. Don't take a day off. So I share—I say [speaks in Native language]. From my heart to your heart. Thank you, in gratitude.

0:21:35 Andrew Williams
Mmm-hmm. [smiles] No thank you, Albert, for that response. And I think, you know, giving our listeners and those who are viewing, right, this vision of hope, this hopeful vision, and this reminder, right, that there—there is support out there, there is help. And help that's specifically kind of designed or envisioned, right, to help support folks on that Red Road. And that there are real, you know, wrap-around, holistic services that can help people move toward greater healing. So I appreciate those caring words, those inspirational words, that reminder to people that help is available. Help that is aligned, right, with one's own kinda worldview and cultural orientation. As well. And your words with us today have truly been medicine for all of us and I feel like the spirits of the ancestors are with us right now. [Albert grins] And are letting us know that they're here and supporting us in the work that we do. So thank you, Albert.

0:22:37 Andrew Williams
[turns to camera]
And to all of you listening or watching today, I want to express my appreciation for you taking the time to join us for this very important and meaningful, soul-growing conversation. And Albert, thank you again, for sharing your wisdom, experiences, medicine, and tremendous insights. And please know that we recognize and appreciate the advocacy and life-changing healing work that you do, as you say, every day. [smiles] So thank you.

0:23:05 Albert Titman
[smiles, nods] And visit the Native Dads website. 


0:23:11 Andrew Williams
Yes. Now I'm certainly gonna revisit it today and I hope everyone who's listening will visit it as well and that Dads out there will get connected to the Network as well. And to everyone else out there, again, please let your friends and colleagues know about the Native Dads Network. About these conversations. And please come back often and catch more episodes of Let's Talk Recovery Equity. Together, we can advance recovery equity for all those in need. As we also work to change how the world thinks about addiction. Thank you again for joining us.

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