Counseling Native Americans
Chap. 3
• Read story on page 33
The People
• 2.3 million; 1% pop
• Over 500 tribes
– 252 different languages
• High degree of
homogeneity across
tribal groups with a
certain degree of
shared cultural
Who is Native American?
• U.S. bureau of Indian affairs defines a Native
American as someone who is enrolled or
registered as a member of a tribe and whose
“blood quantum” is ¼ or more
“genealogically” derived from Native
American ancestry
• U.S. census relies on self-identification
• As counselors it is the person’s selfperception that is important
– *It is not our place to decide
Surviving “History”
The collective emotional and psychological injury both over the life
span and across generations, resulting from a cataclysmic history of
- Dr. Maria Yellow Horse Brave Heart
“Deliberate attempts throughout US history by mainstream American
institutions such as government agencies, schools, and churches to
destroy the Native American institutions of family, clan, and tribal
structure, religious belief systems and practices, customs and
traditional way of life” (p. 32)
Problems Native Americans Face
• Unemployment – rates are 3 to 11 times
greater than general pop.
• Income – median income is half of the
majority pop.; 75% earn less than $7,000 per
• Education – 52% finish high school; 4%
graduate college
• Alcoholism – Double the rate of the general
pop.; Fetal Alcohol Syndrome is 33 times
higher than non Native people
Problems Native Americans Face
• Depression – 1 in 6 Native adolescents
has attempted suicide (4x greater than
the general pop. avg.)
• Health – Higher rates of heart disease
and diabetes
Destructive Forces
 Disease
 Alcohol
Relocation & Assimilation
Racism/ viewed as 2nd class
1924 Recognized as citizens
Spiritual prohibition
1978 American Indian
Religious Freedom Act
Efforts to “civilize” Native people
forced separation of Indian
children from the tribal
communities e.g. religious
boarding schools in the 1950s
• Acculturation - The process of adopting the cultural
traits or social patterns of the dominant group
– *why is this concept important to counselors?
• Levels of acculturation:
– 1. Traditional – May or may not speak English, holds
traditional values
– 2. Marginal – May speak both languages, does not
completely adopt values of either culture
– 3. Bicultural – Accepted by both cultures and able to practice
values/customs of both
– 4. Assimilated – Embraces only mainstream culture
– 5. Pantraditional – Assimilated individuals who make a
conscious choice to return to the “old ways”
Core Values
• Community – actions are based on how they
are benefiting the community and its
harmonious functioning. Individuals are
representative of their tribal community
• Family – extended family is extremely
important; respect for elders (“wisdom
keepers”) in the community; a child may be
raised by multiple family members; may not
just consist of blood relatives
Core Values
• Spirituality – There is a single higher power
known by many names e.g. Creator, Great
– Spirit world that exists side by side with the
physical world
– Human beings made up of spirit, mind, and body –
illness affects all 3 (wellness = harmony of all 3)
– Unwellness – each person responsible for own
• Natural – violation of social or sacred law
• Unnatural – witchcraft from those with destructive
Core Values
• Humor – Laughing is a critical part of the
culture, especially around mealtime. It
relieves stress and creates an atmosphere of
sharing and interconnectedness
– “Humor is the WD-40 of healing”
– Humor should only be used if the client invites it
– Can serve to connect the counselor and the client
on a deeper level
Core Values
• Duality –
– Examples: light and dark, male and female,
life and death, peace and war
– Understanding and reconciling opposites
may be an important therapeutic goal
– “The importance of the feather does not lie
in which color is most beautiful, but in
discovering the purpose of the feather”
Communication Style
• Greeting – Gentle handshake is appropriate.
A firm handshake may be interpreted as
showing dominance or power. *Better to take
the client’s lead
• Hospitality – Traditional emphasis on
generosity/kindness. May be appropriate to
offer a snack or a drink
• Silence – Quiet time at the beginning of a
session is appropriate. Silence shows
respect, understanding, and patience
Communication Style
• Eye Contact – A tendency to avert eyes
as a sign of respect
• Intent – Building trust by showing
acceptance is important
• Collaboration – Being respectful of
individual choice is good, but healing is
considered to be a collaborative
process. *Give suggestion not direction
Counseling Implications
• Sociodemographics – Reconnect with
community through volunteer work
• Health – Encourage regular check-ups and
blood tests
• Historical Context – Exploring history of
discrimination and disruption of traditions
• Acculturation – Explore personal identity/what
it means to be Native American in our society
Other info.
• Native American Times
• Native American Rights Fund

Counseling Native Americans