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One of the cultural minorities that was covered in our Diversity in Counseling class was Native Americans. In the field of counseling, there are many different cultural minority groups that as a substance abuse counselor I will encounter. It is important to know how to work with, and what to expect, when working with people of a different culture.

The history of the Native Americans consists of legends and spiritual wisdom but also consists of a great deal of oppression from the American government. The Native Americans have been mistreated, misunderstood, and subjected to prejudice and cruelty since the discovery of America. Ever since people first started coming to America, the Native Americans were treated unfairly, made slaves, and were forced out of their homes. In 1830, 60,000 Native Americans were herded out of their homes; if they didn't go willingly they were forced to go under completely horrid conditions. The Removal Act (1838-1839) brought way for the Cherokee Trail of Tears where Cherokees, Seminoles, and other natives we removed for American/English culture advancement. The government forced 11,000 Cherokee Indians to march to their new homes where 4,000 died along the way.

In 1924, American Indians were finally granted citizenship and the right to vote. Although things had gotten better for the Native Americans, they still were not considered equal; even today, many Native Americans are still struggling. Most Native Americans live in poverty; only 10% of Native American families have a phone, and 70% have no access to a car. Native Americans also have the highest teen suicide rate in America-triple the national average; and an infant mortality rate double the national rate ("A history of,").

In Native American families, a happy, peaceful, and successful family life was very important. Disputes within the tribe would be settled quickly and in a way that there would be no long term feelings of revenge. If disputes couldn't be settled, tribal elders and chiefs were able to make decisions about disputes. Children were never physically punished for doing wrong in order to keep peace and harmony. In some tribes, punishment consisted of getting a bucket of water thrown on the children by angry parents. If a marriage failed, the woman would simply pack her belongings and move back in with her family without any hard feelings. It was important to keep peace and harmony within the tribe.

In counseling, it is important to know some of what Native American’s value. One thing that they value is personal differences. Native Americans traditionally have respected the unique individual differences among people. Another value is quietness or silence; this is a norm that serves many purposes in Indian life. In social situations, when they are angry or uncomfortable, many Indians remain silent. They also value patience; the virtue of patience is based on the belief that all things unfold in time. Like silence, patience was a survival virtue in earlier times. Native American’s value an open work ethic; work is always directed to a distinct purpose and is done when it needs to be done. They also value nonverbal orientation; traditionally most Indians have tended to prefer listening rather than speaking (Ackley). Another major value of Native Americans is family. The extended family is the backbone to many Native Americans. The family is a person’s main social circle. The majority of leisure time is spent with one’s own family members. The elderly are very important in Native American culture. Their knowledge and experience is valued and special attention is always given to the elders.

As a counselor, it will be important to understand that Native American beliefs are deeply rooted in their culture; they believe everything is sacred. They have a great respect for nature. Native Americans believe that people must use earth’s resources wisely so they can be enjoyed by generations to come. Native people practiced this belief by taking only what they needed from the earth. They also believe in inclusion – to Native American people, life is represented by the circle. In the circle, there is room for everybody. No one is first, no one is last; everyone is equal. Each person is seen as having something unique to contribute to the whole. Native Americans also believe in child stewardship; Native American parenting says that it is the parents’ job not to harm a child or try to make him or her into something other they are. Their job is to help the child become the best that they can be. Many Native Americans also believe in doing vision quests. A vision quest is when a young Native American child is taken to a faraway place and left to fend for themselves for a few days. They are supposed to discover their own purpose in life during this time. The Native American’s believed that when the child learns their purpose, their life will be led with meaning and satisfaction. The child will grow to be an adult who makes a lasting contribution to the world (Native Americans and Values).

As a counselor it is also vital to be aware of, and strive to avoid some of the common misconceptions that there are about Native Americans. There are those who believe that Native American’s are pessimistic, low-spirited, unhappy and without hope. This should instead be regarded as "optimistic toughness." There is the misconception that Native Americans are quiet, stoic and vulnerable; this is actually a control of emotions and poise, as well as a potential mistrust of non-Natives.

In order to successfully work with, and determine the appropriate techniques for helping a Native American client, the counselor must be aware of the background of the individual’s culture and realize how that could have an impact on the client and should carefully observe the client's cultural framework and their degree of defensiveness (Dunham & Telljohann, 2013). By being aware of these things, and appropriately adjusting to them, the counselor will be much more effective in helping Native American clients.

Andrea Schneider


Ackley, K. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://nwindian.evergreen.edu/curriculum/ValuesBehaviors.pdf

A history of oppression:. (n.d.). Retrieved from www.sco.uncc.edu/gswa/../A History of Oppression.doc

Dunham, M., & Telljohann, K. (2013). Counseling considerations for native americans. Retrieved from http://www.slideshare.net/Kjtelljohann/native-american-clinical-considerations-8035234

Native Americans and Values (n.d.). In 4 Native American Values. Retrieved from http://questgarden.com/79/14/5/090327191304/files/FourNativeAmericanValues.htm

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