In August, I attended the 2017 American Indian Alaska Native Behavioral Health Conference in Tulsa, Oklahoma, co-sponsored by the National Indian Health Board and Indian Health Services. In the opening session, Mirtha Beadle, Director of the Office of Tribal Affairs and Policy at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, presented on SAMHSA’s National Tribal Behavioral Health Agenda and the five foundational elements of their Cultural Wisdom Declaration upon which SAMHSA’s priorities and strategies were built. These include:

  • Historical and Intergenerational Trauma
  • Socio-Ecological Approach
  • Prevention and Recovery Support
  • Behavioral Health Systems and Supports
  • National Awareness and Visibility

This was followed by a listening session between Tribal Leaders and Indian Health Services on behavioral health. Tribal Leaders eloquently spoke of their tribe’s abilities to self-determine and the need for policies that give them the power to make decisions on issues that affect their own people.

My favorite session that demonstrated the power of self-determination was called, “Integration of Traditional Plant and Food Knowledge in a Recovery Program”. The Northwest Indian Treatment Center runs a 45-day drug and alcohol residential treatment program in Elma, Washington. Their program was created by the Squaxin Island Tribe to address an unmet need for culturally based treatment centers for Native Americans who had grown up on reservations. Native foods and medicines, singing, drumming, a sweat lodge, beading, and support from local native spiritual communities are woven into the basic fabric of their program.

Culturally based health practices have been used since ancient times and continue to be an important means to seek and maintain wellness. As culturally competent practitioners, we need to be knowledgeable about culture-based wellness and honor individuals’ traditional healing practices.