By Santee Ross, University of Montana
“You’re white and middle class…I’m not sure you will understand me.” That sounds like it could be a common saying especially for Indians but it was the title of a presentation at the University of Montana’s Day of Dialogue last Thursday.
I attended this presentation because the title was cleverly funny yet truthful. The panel was an opportunity for students to engage in conversation with members of the Counseling and Psychological Services or CAPS that is offered on campus.
Concerns about the diversity of the CAPS members were brought up numerous times with good reason. The majority of the staff is white and pretty old.
Although I don’t doubt their skills as a counselor, many students, myself included, feel that there was no diverse representation.
I for one would not want to go to a white person for counseling. Often because those white people who are not familiar with Native culture are more inclined to pick apart my brain like a lab rat or disregard my traditional culture than really listen to my situation.
I would much prefer to spill my guts to a Native counselor and I’m sure most Natives would because on some level that person could relate to the situation and empathize.
Another concern that was brought up was the fear that people have when seeking help.
I know this is a major factor when it comes to Indian Country because we as a culture have learned to be tough and that seeking professional help means that you have failed in some way.
According to an Indian Health Services study, 44% of American Indian with a mental health problem do not seek professional help.
Most IHS clinics provide behavioral health programs but tribal members’ have a difficult time utilizing them. I realize this is because the programs don’t have many natives on staff for culture sensitivity. To some Natives, seeking professional help appears weak and life problems are too difficult to simply talking about them with a stranger.
Looking at it now, those are some high expectations for IHS employees but regardless seeking a solution is vital. Here on the University of Montana, CAPS actually have just hired a Native American on staff but that was the extent of their ethnic diversity.
Either way I feel comforted to know that an Indian counselor is on staff just in case I need some psychological help if I snap during finals week.
Santee Ross (Hopi/Lakota) is from Lander, Wyo.