David Martinez

Portrait of David Martinez

“I am a Whitmore resident and Winnemem Wintu tribal member. I have faced racism and abuse and feelings of not belonging. It has been a long journey to find my way home again and to find peace.

Many Indian people suffer from what’s called historical trauma. My people suffered many massacres and atrocities. My mother was taken to Indian boarding school where she was beaten and molested. She still taught us to be proud of being Indian, but she made us go to church because she was terrified we might get sent to boarding schools like she was. Growing up, the kids would tie me to a tree and “scalp me”, cutting my hair off. I got beat up regular for being an Indian. Around age 12, I discovered alcohol, and I found a way to escape those feelings of not being part of anything. It began my addiction, which would last 33 years.”

Listen to David explain how historical trauma can affect Native Americans.

David Martinez performing
*Seen here: David is dressed in traditional Winnemem regalia, including the Flicker band over his eyes, and dances during the Winnemem Wintu's H'up Chonas (Dance in the Old Way; War Dance) in May 2012.

“My Great Aunt Renee Colman taught me about being Winnemem. She told me we come from Mt. Shasta and speak for the salmon and the waters. She would take me to sacred places on the McCloud River that had been flooded by the Shasta Dam, and she taught me we need to protect what we have left.”

Listen to David talk about who the Winnemem Wintu are as a people.

David Martinez at Idle No More Round Dance
*Shown here: David drums at an Idle No More Round Dance at Mt. Shasta Mall in Redding.

“She also told me it was our job to help people. I found a way to help by becoming an EMT (Emergency Medical Technician) in Mendocino County. It was an insane life, running out to accidents, suicides, murders, fires. You name it. It imprinted a lot of memories that still haunt me to this day. Imagine someone dying in your arms after you have done everything you can to safe their life. It’s not something you forget.

It’s been a lot of years since I was an EMT, but Post Traumatic Stress Disorder still kicks in. Certain sounds and smells, will bring those horrific memories flooding back. I couldn’t watch “E.R.” when it was on television for that reason. It was too real to me.”

David Martinez on his motorcycle.

“There was no critical incident stress debriefings for EMTs back then. After a call, we would haul ass back, so we could hit the bar before closing time and wipe away those memories with alcohol.

I quit the ambulance service because my need for alcohol overshadowed my need to help people. Every day I drank between a six- and 18-pack of beer, a full pint of 100-proof liquor for three years, all while I was holding a county job. That was my life.”

David Martinez performs a traditional dance.
Shown here: David performs a traditional dance at the Winnemem Wintu’s Coonrod ceremony, which is held every summer. A sacred spring on Mt. Shasta is the tribe’s genesis place, according to their oral tradition.

“My recovery started when I was hospitalized. While drunk, I was trying to put away one of my loaded guns and accidentally shot myself. When I got out of the hospital seven days later, my family had an intervention, and I went into a 30-day program. I was doing art therapy one day, and I painted the four directions, the tree of life, the colors and the native beliefs I hadn’t thought about for so long.

After I got out of treatment, I started doing sweat lodges, and joined up with the California bear dancers. After a few years of getting my act back together, my sister took me to the Winnemem’s Coonrod Ceremony near Mt. Shasta, and I knew immediately that I was home again.”

Listen to David discuss how his native beliefs helped his recovery.

David Martinez playing guitar.

“I am dual-diagnosed, which means I have a substance abuse problem and some depression issues. My thinking has been derailed after all those years of drinking. My brain chemicals have been depleted. I accept I have depression issues, and that I have to work on them. Sometimes it means making yourself getting off your dang butt and doing something until you feel better. Sometimes I think a chemical intervention is necessary. 

Right now I am on Wellbutrin, and I don’t have as many days when I’m glued to the chair feeling sorry for myself. It helps me get out of what I call that Eeyore mode.”

Listen to David talk about his work as a drug and alcohol counselor and why he thinks Native Americans sometimes need a different approach to treatment.

David Martinez playing guitar.

“There are many things that keep me going. Dancing with the tribe at ceremony fills the spirit and fills the soul even though we are fasting and physically straining ourselves. There’s also something about the freedom of riding a motorcycle. I feel more at one with those things around me when I’m riding. I also found some guys in Whitmore who play music, and we get together every Friday night for a jam session. It’s another great outlet.

I’m a Winnemem dancer singing country western-cowboy songs. I’ve got a little biker in me too. It makes for a very fulfilling life.”

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