Norman Stevens pauses in a side canyon of the Paria River after showing clients Anasazi pictographs, petroglyphs and metates. (Courtesy Ron Macdonald)

Dine’ Elder Named ‘Unsung Hero’ by Peers for Work With Recovering Alcoholics

Brenda Austin
10/11/12

Licensed Independent Substance Abuse Counselor (LISAC) Norman Stevens (Navajo) was named an Unsung Hero by his peers at the 44th Annual Southwestern School for Behavioral Health Studies Conference held in Tucson, Arizona on Aug. 22.

Stevens received multiple nominations for the award from among 950 of his peers in attendance.

For over 18 years Stevens has provided traditional Dine’ counseling, weekly sweat lodge ceremonies, talking circles and traditional teachings to recovering alcoholics. According to Stevens, he received the award for his 17 years of service as the manager of the Page, Arizona detox unit where he worked with American Indians, the majority from area tribes. “I was surprised that people submitted my name and surprised to be called up there and recognized,” he said. “It was an honor; the 17 years at the detox services where I worked was a hard thing to do.”

Stevens said there is a saying that human services is the most unappreciated profession you can get into; that you have to pat yourself on the back and keep on helping others. “That is about the size of it,” he said. “As American Indians a lot of us have lost touch with our cultures and way of doing things.” He said it helps his clients during treatment to talk about their cultural identity and where they come from, where they are now and where they are going. As part of that process his clients work to identify and define their lives.

Stevens said that people with addictions need someone to talk to, that some of them are lost. He said, “People kind of give up on alcoholics and they need attention to start talking about their problems. Listening to them and doing things with them such as a sweat lodge really helps.”


“The Dine’ way of life is surviving the elements—the water, fire, air and plant life,” he said. “It is a way of spirituality, which is why the sweat lodge is important; it helps them purify and to better arm themselves in a traditional way of life.”

With the closing of the Page detox unit last year, Stevens became a Primary Substance Abuse Counselor for the Navajo Nation’s Tse’Nani’A’Hi’ (Rainbow Bridge) residential treatment program. “It is nice when someone notices that what you are doing is good,” he said. “It is an honor to know there is a Nishnob magazine [Indian Country Today Media Network] that lets people know about what is going on in individual’s lives. I am proud to be one of them.”

As a young man Stevens was a construction worker and spent time traveling around the country wherever his job took him. He was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1967 and sent to Vietnam, which is where he became involved in his work with recovering alcoholics. But when that work began to interfere with his Army duties he stopped.

During his enlistment he took part in the Tet Offensive with his artillery unit performing perimeter security from the belly of a “Duster”—an M42 twin 40 mm self-propelled armored anti-aircraft gun with a crew of six. He was honorably discharged in 1969 after two years of active service.

Helping recovering alcoholics has been his calling. Helping them embrace a traditional, sober, healthier way of life is his passion.

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