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Indigenous Health Equity and Psychedelic Practices Ft. Sutton King

Inspired by the powerful conversation hosted by our co-founder, Jimmy Nguyen, on the Psychedelic Passage podcast, delve into an insightful article exploring the transformative journey of Afro-Indigenous activist Sutton King. 

As an NYU School of Global Public Health graduate and renowned Indigenous rights advocate, Sutton shares her dedication to Indigenous health equity across various sectors. The article delves into the critical role of free, prior, and informed consent (FPIC) in psychedelic practices, emphasizing cultural care and sustainability.

Explore profound topics such as addressing intergenerational trauma, dispelling historical misconceptions, and engaging in vital dialogues within a kinship circle. Drawing insights from Indigenous restorative justice principles, the article navigates the potential pitfalls of cancel culture, highlighting the importance of compassion in societal challenges. 

Gain valuable insights into the lifelong commitment to healing, with a focus on the supportive role of a kinship circle during the integration process. This reflective article prompts contemplation on the broader implications of the psychedelic movement, exploring its intersections with Indigenous rights, environmental stewardship, and the collective journey towards healing.

Key Takeaways

  • Intergenerational Trauma Exploration: Sutton King’s journey into psychedelics is deeply connected to addressing historical and intergenerational trauma in her Indigenous communities, emphasizing the impact of colonization on mental health.
  • Cultural Reclamation: Sutton emphasizes the pivotal role of language in reclaiming cultural heritage and advocates for the incorporation of native languages into activism as a form of resistance against historical attempts to erase Indigenous languages.
  • Conservation and Legal Frameworks: Sutton extends her activism to conservation, highlighting the Indigenous Medicine Conservation Fund. She emphasizes the importance of Indigenous-led initiatives, such as Free, Prior & Informed Consent and the Nagoya Protocol, in preserving sacred plants and ensuring sustainable use of psychedelic resources.
  • Psychedelic Passage: Your Psychedelic Concierge — The easy, legal way to find trustworthy psilocybin guides, facilitators and psychedelic-assisted therapy near you in the United States.

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For harm-reduction purposes, we provide links to online psilocybin vendors, local stores, delivery services, and spore vendors for growing your own medicine at home.

Understanding Intergenerational Trauma In Order To Heal It

Sutton’s journey into the realm of psychedelics is deeply intertwined with her commitment to addressing the historical and intergenerational trauma experienced by the communities of both sides of her family. 

Growing up within the rich tapestry of Indigenous culture on her mom’s side, she witnessed both the pride in traditions and the devastating impact of colonization on mental health. 

The dance of the jingle dress, a traditional form aimed at healing the sick, planted the seeds for Sutton’s passion for health and wellness.

Seeing so many members having a difficult time dealing with substance misuse, depression and PTSD, Sutton was led on a journey to understand how historical and intergenerational trauma has played a role in that experience for her community.

In the heart of Africatown, Mobile, Alabama, Sutton’s roots on her father’s side intertwine with the legacy of the last slave ship, the Clotilda.

Sutton’s connection to Africatown and her Nigerian heritage amplifies the weight of historical trauma. Her story reflects not just personal struggles but the broader challenges faced by a community marked by both historical and contemporary traumas.

Reclaiming Heritage Through Language

Sutton King, fluent in both Menominee and Oneida languages, emphasizes the pivotal role of language in reclaiming cultural heritage.

As she reflects on the impact of colonization, she underlines the importance of incorporating native languages into activism to counteract historical attempts to erase Indigenous languages. 

This theme resonates with broader cultural reclamation efforts, aiming to revive and preserve traditions that have withstood centuries of suppression.

“And I always remind, especially the younger generations, you’re not born knowing all of your traditions and all of your ways. And your ancestors are so proud of you once you begin that journey of learning and reclaiming.”

The notion that ancestors take pride in the effort, even if imperfect, adds a layer of significance to the healing potential embedded in language reclamation.

Seeing Her Generational Trauma on Paper

Driven by a quest for liberation, Sutton pursued a psychology degree, hoping to unlock healing doors. However, academia brought its own trauma, with clashes between personal experiences and Western health ideologies creating a barrier to her transcendence.

The conversation touches on Sutton’s profound moment of self-discovery during a clinical practice assignment, where she created a genogram—a visual representation of a family tree. 

This exercise unearthed a cycle of trauma originating from Manifest Destiny and Westward Expansion, reaching down to Sutton herself. 

It highlighted the responsibility and opportunity to break this cycle, aligning with the Indigenous principle of the seven generations, emphasizing the consequences of actions on future generations.

“Doing this exercise you see this direct line of you as an individual all the way to your family’s past, your society’s past, your culture’s past, all the way through to actions and events that had nothing to do with you. 

And that’s what I remind my clients all the time, it’s not just you and your story and the things that happen to you. It’s also the society you live in, the culture you live in, the family you were brought in.”

The Power of Kinship and Responsibility

Sutton delves into the Oneida perspective on healing as a collective process, emphasizing that individuals are not separate from their ancestors or future generations but part of a continuum of life. 

Healing must address intergenerational trauma, fostering a sense of responsibility and connection to ancestors and future generations. This kinship approach is a powerful motivator for healing.

Cultural Extraction and Assimilation

The American Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1978

The American Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1978, a mere 45 years ago, granted native people the right to practice their traditional religions, marking a pivotal moment in history.

Sutton King emphasizes the irony that in a country claiming to be the “land of the free,” indigenous communities struggled for decades to reclaim their sacred practices, only gaining this right relatively recently.

She shows the stark contrast by highlighting Albert Hoffman’s “Bicycle Day” in 1943, 

“Here’s a scientist who had access to psychedelic substances, gets LSD on his hand and went on this prolific bike ride that opened up his whole world. That was 35 years before indigenous folks were ‘allowed to.’ so it’s this really interesting piece of like timing.

If we just say, ‘oh, it started in the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s,’ then I can see how that can be really problematic. It’s an erasure of the plight of indigenous people’s way of life and the plight to protect these medicines.”

“Hurt People, Hurt People”

The story delves into the heart-wrenching irony of colonization, where those fleeing religious persecution became agents of cultural erasure. 

“When settlers came here, they were fleeing from religious persecution to then persecute the Indigenous peoples for their religious ways, their traditional ways. The ones who are abused become the abusers.”

Sutton King’s grandmother, an enrolled member of the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin, was born into a cultural crossroads. Her great grandfather, Chief Reginald Oshkosh, was chief of the Menominee tribe. He was the first to attend Carlisle Indian boarding school.

Raised on the Menominee Reservation in a Catholic household, she bore witness to the distant echoes of ceremonial drums. However, the oppressive environment of the boarding school, guided by the motto “kill the Indians, save the man,” sought to extinguish these cultural ties. 

Sutton King recalls a poignant conversation where her grandmother revealed that, despite hearing the drums, the fear instilled by the boarding school kept her from powwows and traditional ceremonies. 

The forced assimilation denied her the right to explore and embrace her indigenous heritage fully. The Carlisle Indian boarding school exemplifies the harsh assimilation policies that sought to sever indigenous connections to land, culture, and language. 

Appreciation Versus Appropriation: Maria Sabina & R Gordon Wasson

The idea of cultural extraction, especially in psychedelics, is exemplified by the story of Maria Sabina. Wasson was a vice president at J.P. Morgan, but also funded by the CIA to study ethnobotany, botany, anthropology in cultures throughout the world. 

Wasson ends up in Mexico engaging in sacred plant medicine, specifically psilocybin-containing mushroom ceremonies with Sabina as an elder. 

He later published an article on his experiences in Life Magazine, describing self-actualization and trauma healing, which caused a flood of westerners into Mexico secretly recording and exposing these sacred practices. 

That led to mushroom spores being brought to America, the beginning of psychedelic culture in America, and in turn made Maria Sabina and her descendents’ lives very difficult, becoming impoverished and ostracized by their community.

“When you ask Maria Sabina, would you have changed this? This whole thing destroyed your life? And she says,

‘Listen to the wisdom of the mushroom. The mushroom is what’s telling me that it’s time.’ And actually the biggest healing that needs to happen is in this society and in this culture.”

It’s important to note that everyone deserves healing, and should have access to these healing modals but if it is not through a lens of kinship, without health care and resources geared towards indigenous populations, then it’s perpetuating problems instead of eradicating them.

Psychedelics: The Doorway to Sutton’s Healing

Traditional therapeutic approaches, including talk therapy and cognitive-behavioral therapy, provided only limited relief for Sutton. She found herself hitting a wall in the attempt to transmute the pain from her past into personal alchemy. 

The yearning for transformation and liberation led her to explore alternative paths, ultimately introducing her to the profound impact of psychedelics on her healing journey.

Sutton’s encounter with psychedelics marked a turning point, offering a unique lens through which to view her trauma. 

The psychedelic experience became a transformative and spiritual path, allowing her to release shame and embrace the power within her testimony. 

In the process, Sutton emerged as a vocal advocate for utilizing psychedelics in addressing gender-based violence and complex layers of trauma, recognizing their potential as tools for healing.

“Are psychedelics going to revolutionize the way that we live in the society? Or is it actually going to just perpetrate the same systems of power that are going to exist?”

Indigenous-Led Initiatives for Conservation

Beyond individual healing, Sutton extends her activism into conservation efforts through the Indigenous Medicine Conservation Fund. 

Recognizing the ecological threats to keystone medicines like ayahuasca, iboga, peyote, mushrooms, and Bufo Alvarius toad, she emphasizes the importance of Indigenous-led philanthropy in preserving these sacred plants. 

This aligns with the holistic Indigenous perspective that views healing as interconnected with the land, emphasizing sustainability and responsible stewardship.

Free, Prior & Informed Consent

Sutton lays out the legal framework that allows Western cultures to move forward with psychedelics in a sustainable way that preserves and respects the indigenous cultures they are rooted in. 

Free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) is an idea that comes from the The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People and aims to empower the indigenous tribes that psychedelic resources come from, by consulting them prior to any use or development. 

Nagoya Protocol

Sutton takes it a step further and breaks down the Nagoya Protocol from the Convention on Biological Diversity in 1992. 

It ensures that any company that profits from genetic resources from traditional communities must engage in FPIC and MAT (mutually agreed upon terms).

These tools perpetuate the idea of collective healing and kinship, which as Sutton points out, is a fundamental aspect of psychedelics. 

“One of the biggest criticisms that’s happening here in Colorado is that all of the psychedelic stuff is moving so fast, we’re not even slowing down to ask what folks need before we’re putting together regulatory structures and “community” models.”

Truth Giving Over Thanksgiving

As the conversation turns to the Thanksgiving season, Sutton introduces the concept of “truth giving” as an alternative perspective. 

Acknowledging the challenging conversations that may arise, she encourages compassionate dialogue, recognizing that differing views often stem from a history of oppression and settler colonialism. This echoes the broader need for understanding and healing at societal levels.

Reframing Healing as Intergenerational and Relational

Sutton advocates for reframing healing as intergenerational and relational, challenging the individualistic approach often associated with Western paradigms. 

She stresses the interconnectedness of all things, emphasizing the Haudenosaunee concept of kinship. This perspective extends the focus beyond personal healing to healing relationships between individuals, communities, and the natural world.

The Concept of Truth Giving and Honest Dialogues

Sutton expands on the concept of “truth giving” as a way to counter false narratives and engage in honest dialogues about historical trauma. 

She highlights the importance of uncomfortable conversations and the need to move towards a sense of kinship, where leaders ensure that everyone affected by a decision has a say. 

Cancel culture, she argues, is contrary to Indigenous values, advocating for a restorative justice approach and compassionate understanding.

The Continuum of Healing

“Healing doesn’t have a start date and an end date. I’m like, sorry to break it to you. It’s a lifelong commitment”

Jimmy and Sutton discuss the continuum of healing, emphasizing that healing is a lifelong commitment and journey. They explore the importance of having a supportive circle or community to navigate the challenges of integration

Sutton shares her personal experience of owning her truth and how it has become a source of strength, contributing to her advocacy work for survivors of gender-based violence.

She describes many generations of survivors in her family, and in starting an open and honest dialogue with the women in her family, she was able to support them—

—learn from them, and use that knowledge in her own social entrepreneurship to create the best possible programs to support others.

Sutton ends the conversation with an open invitation to those who want to connect with a community, while Jimmy closes with a piece of feedback from a concierge call. 

“As a person who locked themselves in a room and did psychedelics a lot, none of that mattered until I engaged with community, until I started to be open and vocal about who I am, what I’m going through.”

After having a concierge call, this client immediately felt the stark difference a support system can make by bringing you out of an echo chamber of your own thoughts, and into a truly supportive and authentic community.

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          Frequently Asked Questions

          1. How did Sutton King’s upbringing influence her interest in psychedelics?

          Sutton’s upbringing within Indigenous culture on her mom’s side exposed her to the pride in traditions and the impact of colonization on mental health. 

          Witnessing the devastating effects, particularly substance misuse, depression, and PTSD, ignited her journey to understand historical and intergenerational trauma in her community.

          2. What role does language play in Sutton King’s advocacy for cultural heritage?

          Sutton, fluent in Menominee and Oneida languages, emphasizes language’s pivotal role in cultural reclamation. 

          She stresses its importance in activism to counteract historical attempts to erase Indigenous languages. Reclaiming language is seen as a significant step in preserving and reviving traditions.

          3. How did Sutton’s academic pursuit uncover her own generational trauma?

          Sutton pursued a psychology degree to unlock healing doors but encountered trauma within academia. A pivotal moment occurred during a genogram assignment, revealing a cycle of trauma originating from Manifest Destiny. 

          This exercise highlighted the responsibility to break the cycle, aligning with the Indigenous principle of the seven generations.

          4. What is the significance of the Oneida perspective on healing, according to Sutton King?

          Sutton delves into the Oneida perspective, emphasizing that healing is a collective process. Individuals are viewed as part of a continuum of life, connected to ancestors and future generations. This kinship approach fosters a sense of responsibility, serving as a powerful motivator for healing.

          5. How does Sutton King connect cultural extraction and assimilation to the history of psychedelics?

          Sutton discusses the irony of the American Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1978, which granted native people the right to practice their religions only 45 years ago. 

          She contrasts this with Albert Hoffman’s “Bicycle Day” in 1943, highlighting the erasure of indigenous ways of life. Sutton emphasizes the importance of considering the historical context in psychedelic narratives.

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