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Healing for Native Families in an Urban Community

This video introduces programs in Portland, Oregon, offering culturally relevant health care and social services that members of any tribe can access.

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PHYLLIS S. WOLFE, DIRECTOR, URBAN INDIAN HEALTH PROGRAMS, INDIAN HEALTH SERVICE, CHOCTAW NATION OF OKLAHOMA: 3.8 million of all American Indians and Alaska Natives in the U.S. actually live in urban settings. That's a large number. They need access to culturally competent health care services and social and cultural activities as well.

MATT MORTON, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, NAYA, SQUAXIN ISLAND TRIBE: One of the important pieces about working with Native people in an urban setting is really designing the type of service that is going to be the most relevant and culturally responsive. The Native community here is incredibly multi-tribal, multi-ethnic, and we come with our individual experiences and values from our tribes.

TAWNA SANCHEZ, DIRECTOR OF FAMILY SERVICES, NAYA, SHOSHONE BANNOCK/UTE/CARRIZO TRIBES: We have Native families that have maybe moved from Montana, South Dakota, Wyoming, wherever. And they've moved into this big city and they don't know where everybody is. They don't know where all the Indians are. And they just feel really isolated.

DONITA, SHOSHONE-BANNOCK TRIBES: I am a single mother with three children. I came to Portland in 2004 to join the strong recovery community that's here. At that time I was unemployed, I was homeless, I had lost my driving privileges to multiple DUIs, I didn't have custody of my kids, and I was incarcerated.

TAWNA SANCHEZ: If that alcohol and drug stuff is going on on a fairly regular basis, that has definitely separated people from who they are. They're not talking about culture. They've pushed that to the back of their lives, right? So they're not handing that to their children very often. Which is really, really sad in a way, you know, for those kids, because they…then they don't have it.

DONITA: And while I was incarcerated I had heard about the Native American Rehabilitation Association—NARA program. So that's what brought me here.

PHYLLIS WOLFE: NARA is unique. It's one of the few residential treatment centers in America for American Indians and Alaska Natives.

JACQUELINE MERCER, CEO, NARA NORTHWEST, PORTLAND, OREGON: What we do is we bring treatment into culture instead of culture into treatment.

PHILIP ARCHAMBAULT, CULTURAL DIRECTOR, NARA NORTHWEST, HUNKPAPA BAND OF THE STANDING ROCK SIOUX TRIBE: The normal treatment program didn't work for our people, you know. And that's where the elders came up with the idea that we need to get our sweat lodges back in, our pipe ceremonies and talking circle, which is very strong.

TERRY ELLIS, CLINICAL MANAGER, CHILD AND FMAILY SERVICES, CHIRICAHUA APACHE, FORT SILLS: The focus of our work is to end multigenerational dysfunction, trauma, and addiction. And so what we try to develop is a truly cultural attitude for our work.

JACQUELINE MERCER: Culture is really about values, it's around beliefs, it's around customs, language, and foods. And what we've really tried to do within the organization is to help people find themselves.

DONITA: I did four months in residential services and then a year of outpatient treatment. And it was a place where I could practice those values that are fundamental to who…how my family raised me and who I am as a Native woman.

PHILIP ARCHAMBAULT: I have an open door sweat lodge out there, which means that anybody that comes in here, from whatever tribe, nation, band you belong to, you can sing and pray in your own language or whatever, 'cause nothing says you have to pray my way or whatever.

JEREMY, BURNS PAIUTE: I knew I was going to change before I even went, you know, 'cause there was no other way. Because I've already watched people die from drinking and just everything, and I knew that's where I was going.

PATRICIA, NAVAJO/BURNS PAIUTE: I had gotten a call from Jeremy. He was incarcerated at the time, and I got a call from him, and he said, "Well, you know, if..." He said, "I'm ready to sober up. And if you're ready to do this and try it as a family, then I'm willing to do it, too."

JACQUELINE MERCER: One of the unique features of our residential treatment program is that parents can bring their children into treatment with them.

JEREMY: Going through NARA with my family was pretty good. I mean, each step you take spiritually, physically, emotionally, your family goes with you, you know.

TRACY ELLIS: One of the difficulties of being a parent and dealing with your addiction is you may also have to face what you've done to your children and to your family. And so a lot of the work that we do in our department is try to reestablish those relationships.

JEREMY: It was the best experience of my life. And now that I'm clean and sober it's like everything's clear—at least, you know, my choices. There's no tomorrow if we don't change for the kids.

MATT MORTON: In a tribal community, you oftentimes can have your support around you—your family, your friends—when you're trying to make healthy lifestyle choices. In an urban community, it can be more challenging to find that support group. And that's one of the things we've tried to create here at NAYA.

TAWNA SANCHEZ: What we do in working with families is help them to get sort of feeling better about who they are as individual human beings. We work with families to get their kids returned from foster care. We work with families to kind of move away from the domestic violence in their lives, if that's a man or a woman.

DONITA: For me personally, it's just really been a huge help in me maintaining my sobriety. My kids were accessing NAYA programming. They were coming to sports activities, and there were lots of community events. We have so much gratitude for what we have today, because we've been there at those really low points with many, many challenges.

MATT MORTON: One of our most valuable assets is our elders. We are so thankful and so grateful to have our elders here. And it's really…it was a very intentional plan to have their room located in the center of the building so we could bring…continue to bring community and bring students in to be with them.

TAWNA SANCHEZ: Part of our job, I think, almost as a center and people within that center, is to help our kids relearn, this is how you talk to an elder. This is how you engage in this type of situation, or, you know, this is how you would handle an eagle feather, or, you know, you know, your dance outfit is not just a dress, you can't throw it in a bag. You know? You have to take care of it, because this is our culture. This is our ways. These are the things that we do in our lives.

JEREMY: With NAYA, to me, it's like back home. We come and sing and help the kids. I teach dancing to the younger ones that want to learn, or at least get them involved, get them out there, get them used to hearing, you know, the drum. Get them used to having those people around, those dancers and singers.

MATT MORTON: And we have a really fantastic sort of healthy, sober community within Portland's Native community that is very supportive of one another.

JACQUELINE MERCER: Wherever somebody goes, they know about NAYA, they know about NARA. And I see us as having very vital, important roles in helping the community. And people benefit from that effort.

PHYLLIS WOLFE: Community is important to one's life and well-being, and friendships are established that enable you to continue those powerful healings. Whether you are in an urban setting or on the reservation, you have to have friends and community that you can be a part of to help you continue those changes.

Date Created: June 16, 2020