National Association for Rights Protection and Advocacy

Mental Health Oppression & American Indian Youth:
Challenging Generations of Harm

David Walker, Ph.D.

Mental health practice among native people has a history of indoctrination, thought reform, and sedation of reactions to cultural destruction and genocide. Native American youth have the highest rates of suicide of any ethnic group in the U.S. Niix Ttawaxt (‘Good Growth’) Virtues were created through alliance with the Yakama Nation community in central Washington in 2002 and have been used since in area schools, talking circles, and residential and language programs. Teaching and discussing traditional language virtues, combined with peer and elder support, is viewed by community members as an alternative to the medicating and labeling approach of the Indian Health Service. The culture-centered Niix Ttawaxt approach remains the only behavioral intervention to receive a formal resolution of support from Yakama Nation Tribal Council.

Learning Objectives:  

·         Participants will gain a deeper understanding of the history of mental health practice in American Indian boarding schools, the Hiawatha Asylum for Insane Indians, and public health systems.

·         Participants will recognize how current federal and tribal health systems recapitulate and recycle oppressive and genocidal practices of the past.

·         Participants will recognize broader implications from experience in Native America for oppressed communities in their local environment.

·         Participants will learn strategies for avoiding harm, opposing oppressive practices, and developing cultural competence in allying with community members to intervene in such social problems as chronic hopelessness, substance abuse, and suicide.

Link to brief presenter bio:

David Walker, Ph.D.