Working in Indian Country

Picture of Native Mother and ChildCurrently, there are over 560 federally recognized American Indian and Alaskan Native Indian tribes in the U.S.  According to the 2010 Census, 5.2 million people in the U.S. identified as American Indian or Alaska Native, either alone or in combination with one or more other races. American Indian women and children living on Indian reservations and in urban communities experience unique challenges that intensify the epidemic of violence against them. American Indian  women on Indian reservations suffer domestic violence, physical assault, and sexual assault at rates far exceeding women of other ethnicities.1,2,3 A 2004 Department of Justice report estimates domestic violence and physical assault rates to be as much as 50% higher than the next most victimized demographic.4 During a physical assault, American Indian and Alaska Native women were more likely to be injured that women of all other groups and more of these injuries needed medical care.5 American Indian and Alaska Native children are more likely to receive needed mental health care services through a juvenile justice system and inpatient facilities than non-Indian children.6

Many American Indians and Alaska Natives have found healthy ways of coping with the stress of forced acculturation, attempted genocide, loss of land and culture, and the death of loved ones. They have coped by practicing Native spirituality, valuing connections with families and communities, and initiating a grassroots movement toward healthier lifestyles.7

In order to adequately assist American Indian and Alaska Native children and youth heal from exposure to domestic violence,  programs should not only consider the current family situation, but also the historical traumas that have occurred.  Domination and oppression of native peoples increased both economic deprivation and dependency through retracting tribal rights and sovereignty. Consequently, American Indian and Alaska Natives today are believed to suffer from internalized oppression and the normalization of violence.8 Group Interventions that focus on building upon cultural strengths and that are rooted in Native values and the connections between mind, body, spirit and the environment tend to be more effective than other modalities.9

Footnotes:

1Brief for National Network to End Domestic Violence et al. as Amici Curiae Supporting Respondents at 2, Plains Commerce Bank v. Long Family Land and Cattle Co., 128 S. Ct. 2709 (2008) (No. 07-411).

2 Steven W Perry, American Indians and Crime- A BJS Statistical Profile 1992-2002, Bureau of Justice Statistics, US Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, December 2004. http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/index.cfm?ty=pbdetail&iid=386

3 Tjaden, P. & Thonennes. (2000). The Prevalence, Incidence, and Consequences of Violence Against Women: findings from the National Violence Survey Against Women. National Institute of Justice & the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. http://www.ncjrs.gov/txtfiles1/nij/183781.txt

4 Steven W Perry, American Indians and Crime- A BJS Statistical Profile 1992-2002, Bureau of Justice Statistics, US Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, December 2004.

5U.S. Department of Justice. Violence Against American Indian and Alaska Native Women and the Criminal Justice Response: What is known. 2008:49

6 Bigfoot, Dolores S. & Schmidt, Susan R (2010). “Honoring Children, Mending the Circle: Cultural Adaption of Trauma-Focused Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy for American Indian and Alaska Native Children. Journal of Clinical Psychology. Vol 66: 847.

7 Barcus, C. Society of Indian Psychologists, Chapter 5, Recommendations for the treatment of American Indian Populations.

8 Burbar, R., & Thurman, P.J. (2004) Violence against Native women. Social Justice, 31(4), 70-86.

9 Barcus, C. Society of Indian Psychologists, Chapter 5, Recommendations for the treatment of American Indian Populations.