Alan Sorensen Havre Daily News firstname.lastname@example.org
The implementation of a childhood trauma program at Rocky Boy’s Indian Reservation received praise Friday from the woman whose federal agency has funded the project the last four years. “What you’re doing out here (is) a great model,” A. Kathryn Power, director of the U. S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration (SAMHSA), told staff at Box Elder School. “From the prevention and wellness aspects, congratulations.” Box Elder, which sits just off the reservation, was the first stop on Power’s tour of agencies throughout the reservation that have a hand in the program. Aaron Morsette, an enrolled member of the Chippewa Cree Tribe at Rocky Boy and a trauma intervention specialist at UM, was working on his master’s degree when the reservation was chosen as a co-recipient with the University of Montana of a grant to address childhood trauma among Indian children. “When the initial grant was funded, I was excited because it gave me an opportunity to come home and visit my family and work with the kids,” Morsette said. Morsette said he has seen the program work at Rocky Boy for the last four years and is excited that the program has been funded for a fifth year. “So many times on a reservation, you see a program come in and it’s gone in six months or a year,” he said. The granting agencies, by way of excuse, he said, then throw the blame on the tribes, saying, “It didn’t work because you people didn’t do it right.” The program, in coordination with the Montana Center of Childhood Trauma at UM, has been around long enough to show positive results, Morsette said. Complete statistical analyses have been done in conjunction with similar programs on reservations in other states, and it has evolved since its inception to fit the needs of the Rocky Boy community. “We looked at it and it was working,” he said. “We take programs and make modifications so it fits better with Indian children. “It’s been really cool to be part of the evolution and watch it evolve during the past four years and to bring you here and let you see,” he said, looking at Power. Power’s question to the tribal council, tribal court, Box Elder School and UM representatives in the room Was where do they want the program go from here. “Is it something that you want to be doing forever, or are there some evolution factors that will improve the program over time?” she asked. Rick van den Pol, director of the UM Division of Educational Research and Service, said the tribe recently gave the program a nod of approval. “The council endorsed it, and it will evolve,” van den Pol said. “We’ll keep working with it.” That work will be further enhanced, he said, by a recent grant from the Center for Mental Health Services and Power’s agency, the U.S. Substance Abuse. The new four-year, $2.4 million grant will fund the National Native Children’s Trauma Center, the only member center of the National Child Traumatic Stress Network that targets working with children and their parents in Indian Country. Box Elder School academic adviser in the counseling department Shari Ruff told Power the school has adopted coping mechanisms to help children through traumatic experiences. “Whether it’s relaxation, stopping negative thinking, that’s what this is about,” Ruff said. “They’re great on drawing, and they love drawing and they can draw what was done to them. Writing, talking or drawing I found drawing to be the best.” School counselor Kevin Barsotti said grief after the death of a loved one, particularly an elderly grandparent, is also a big issue on the reservation. “A lot of our kids stay with their grandparents,” he said. After concluding her stop in Box Elder with an exchange of gifts with Tribal Council member Ken Writing Bird, Power went on to Stone Child College, where she met with students in a counseling class taught by Ann Johnstone. Power used examples of how agencies under the auspices of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, such as the Centers for Disease Control, SAMHSA and the Office for Mental Health Services, are beginning to work together. The agencies are moving away from individual problems and starting to focus on the overall health of a community, “what’s happening in that community.” Power outlined several tools available to communities and talked about the move from treatment to prevention. She added that research shows that people with substance abuse problems usual suffer from other conditions, such as mental illness, being the victims of violence or witnesses to violence, and vice versa. She said the Center for Substance Abuse Prevention, the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment and the Center of Mental Health Services are working together to address co-occuring conditions. The centers grew up separately but are now growing together, becoming integrated in their efforts. “You have to inculcate the belief that you can affect community health,” she told the students and others in the room. “It’s all based on the principle of recovery. The individual is in charge of their own life. “Recovery has been adopted now as a possibility in mental illness,” she added. “If you’re trying to improve the human condition, it’s important to bleed and blend these programs together.” She identified a number of federal resources and resources in other states that members of the community team can tap into for assistance in addressing concerns specific to the reservation. Tribal court officials also are involved with the trauma program, helping parents and others who have contact with children deal with their addictions and dysfunctional behavior that impacts children. Spousal and family abuse are often offshoots of alcohol and drug abuse. “I try to talk them through that,” said Jolene Crebs, crisis counselor for tribal court. “I want to start utilizing cultural ways. “According to the dominant society, they view our traditions as in the past, but they’re alive and well today. They’re not dead, they’re very much alive and living today.” Elinor Wright, tribal court administrator, said victims’ advocates from District 4 Human Resource Development Council in Havre also provide assistance to people going through or affected by cases in Rocky Boy’s courts. They aren’t counselors, she said, they help people, including children, get through the system, deal with the system. Power also stopped at Rocky Boy Schools, tribal courts, Boys and Girls Club of the Bear Paws, the tribe’s drug and alcohol treatment center, fitness center and health center, all containing components of the reservationwide trauma response program.