Indigenous Mental Health

With Indigenous Peoples' Day and World Mental Health Day coinciding in Oct. 2022, the following works consider the intersection of these two topics.

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Allard, Seth. Guided by the spirits: the meanings of life, death, and youth suicide in an Ojibwa community. Routledge, 2018. 172p bibl index ISBN 9780815369448, $140.00; ISBN 9781351216821 ebook, contact publisher for price.
Reviewed in CHOICE November 2018

Allard (Western Michigan Univ.) presents an ethnohistorical study of youth suicide in the Sault Sainte Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians. While the reader can anticipate a framework relying on structured and unstructured interviews, participant observation, and collection and analysis of documents, this study offers more. Historical and anthropological literature on the Chippewa or Ojibwa peoples provides significant context to the phenomenon under study. The Indigenous author also includes his own identity, experience, and learning in that community—creatively integrated as poetry, story, and conversation. With this auto-ethnographic method Allard does not stand apart but recognizes mutuality and reciprocity, demonstrating how one can balance multiple roles from within and outside Indigenous communities and respectfully making room for previously unexpressed views, information, and forms of evidence. This in turn exemplifies a conscious effort for inclusive representation of Indigenous peoples and collaborative ownership of research outcomes. Allard’s scholarship lends itself to effectively challenging prevailing views on youth suicide and the cultural and historical realities of mental health in Indigenous communities. Finally, with this approach, Allard makes an essential and propelling contribution to emerging Indigenous and postmodern research literature in North America. Summing Up: Essential. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty and professionals. —G. Bruyere, University of Lethbridge

American Indian and Alaska Native children and mental health: development, context, prevention, and treatment, ed. by Michelle C. Sarche et al. Praeger, 2011. 408p ISBN 0313383049, $58.00; ISBN 9780313383045, $58.00.
Reviewed in CHOICE April 2012

This work, part of the “Child Psychology and Mental Health” series, is an important addition to the literature regarding American Indian/Alaska Native (AI/AN) health and health care. It begins with an examination of the factors that impact, both positively and negatively, the mental health of developing AI/AN children. A consideration of systems of and approaches to care that promote health and growth follows. The editors then turn their attention to describing prevention and treatment programs that have been effective in promoting mental health among AI/AN communities. Throughout, the crucial integration of individual caregivers with families and communities in developing effective programs is apparent. Two chapters will be particularly useful to non-AI/AN providers and scholars. Chapter 9, “Community-Based Participatory Research in Indian Country,” makes clear the pitfalls of attempting to conduct research when insufficiently aware of the culture of research subjects. The final chapter provides two clear examples of culturally relevant programs to promote wellness in AI/AN children. This book belongs in the library of any college with programs in Native studies and/or health programs to prepare care providers to effectively meet the needs of AI/AN clients. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through professionals/practitioners. —T. D. DeLapp, University of Alaska Anchorage

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Fitzgerald, Kathleen J. Beyond white ethnicity: developing a sociological understanding of Native American identity reclamation. Lexington Books, 2006. 249p ISBN 0739113933, $75.00; ISBN 9780739113936, $75.00.
Reviewed in CHOICE June 2007

Fitzgerald (Columbia College) focuses on the differing experiences of white and color ethnicities by researching Native American reclamation. Her use of qualitative ethnographic research is a poignant discussion of the issues faced by Native Americans attempting to reclaim their cultures. The use of narrative shows not only the historical but also the current difficulties faced by those advancing or reclaiming their Native heritages. Fitzgerald, though not Native, manages to step out of the traditional sociological tradition and allows the Native speakers the dignity and humanity of their own words. The author presents information on Native reclamation in an equitable, well-discussed manner, and her book should be used widely in sociology, anthropology, ethnographic, and multicultural courses at all levels. There is also value for individuals wanting to understand some of the modern issues faced by Native Americans who are actively perpetuating their cultures. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All academic library levels/collections. —L. L. Lovern, Valdosta State University

I am where I come from: Native American college students and graduates tell their life stories, ed. by Andrew Garrod, Robert Kilkenny, and Melanie Benson Taylor. Cornell, 2017. 279p ISBN 9781501706912, $89.95; ISBN 9781501706929 pbk, $21.95; ISBN 9781501708022 ebook, contact publisher for price.
Reviewed in CHOICE December 2017

This set of reflections by Native students and graduates of Dartmouth College offers another much-needed archive of the experiences, challenges, and successes of college students who remain little understood and even less supported. The book provides a 20-year revisiting of First Person, First Peoples (CH, Dec’97, 35-2310), which also documented Dartmouth student experiences, and includes three return authors updating their stories. Though focused on Dartmouth, the stories ring true for a broad college landscape and across the diversity of Native students. Thirteen narratives plus useful front matter effectively and affectively explore the interwoven nature of Native students’ personal, cultural, academic, professional, and political development via life journeys before, during, and after the Ivy League. This book will be beneficial to Native college students and those aspiring to college who will recognize their own stories and lives, as the contributors are unafraid of sometimes gritty, always grounded details as well as the big picture. It should prove highly useful as course learning material and a research resource. It also nicely identifies how and why university recruitment strategies, student support, and overall campus experiences frequently fail Native students and their communities. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All levels/libraries. —N. B. Barnd, Oregon State University

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Kral, Michael J. The return of the sun: suicide and reclamation among Inuit of Arctic Canada. Oxford, 2019. 192p bibl index ISBN 9780190269333 pbk, $45.00; ISBN 9780190671792 ebook, contact publisher for price.
Reviewed in CHOICE March 2020

Kral (Wayne State Univ.) takes a sociocultural-historical approach to go beyond individual pathologizing of the present-day epidemic of youth suicide in Inuit communities to more broadly define and situate the etiology of suicide within a complex ecological context. This ethnography begins by outlining how imperialism and colonialism changed Inuit family lives and created a perturbation responsible for myriad social problems, including suicide. Intergenerational segregation (children disconnected from parents and elders) became the norm for an indigenous society for whom intergenerational ties were essential and fundamental. This kind of analysis is common throughout post-colonial literature. What distinguishes this work are the ways Kral integrates the voices of Inuit elders, parents, youth, community professionals, and leaders. Specifically, these voices illustrate—through song, story, and life narratives—a practical sovereignty where Inuit youth themselves work to develop successful, responsive organizations and programs, in marked contrast to the failed government prevention efforts described in early chapters. The author’s decades-long experience and relationships with Inuit peoples coalesce with his community-based participatory action research methodology to consistently reflect the primacy of commitment to and by Inuit youth and the willingness of others to drive community action and empowerment. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All readership levels. —G. Bruyere, University of Lethbridge

Mental health care for urban Indians: clinical insights from Native practitioners, ed. by Tawa M. Witko. American Psychological Association, 2006. 224p ISBN 1591473594, $69.95. 
Reviewed in CHOICE November 2006

This book is a remedy for the lack of educational resources for mental health and human service professionals working with Native American people. Related literature in academic journals is slowly emerging, but this timely book significantly expands what is available. The first three chapters explore the historical effects of colonization, relocation, and residential schools on mental health, family systems, and identity. Part 2 addresses specific treatment needs for alcohol and drug rehabilitation, family violence, and the impact of trauma. Perhaps most heartening is the description in part 3 of new clinical models for working with Indian populations, related to storytelling, parenting, treating adolescents, and helping communities. One of this book’s primary strengths is how each chapter offers specific, concrete, culturally sensitive recommendations to assist Native Americans with mental health issues. Throughout the volume, authors explore the current knowledge base and where they and other human service professionals must go with policy, research, and administration. Although the book will be most valuable to mainstream Americans with little knowledge of urban Indian people, Native American practitioners and students will also find validation of their experiences and world views to support individual and collective healing. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All levels. —G. Bruyere, Nicola Valley Institute of Technology

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Rostkowski, Joëlle. Conversations with remarkable Native Americans. SUNY Press, 2012. 143p ISBN 1438441754, $35.00; ISBN 9781438441757, $35.00.
Reviewed in CHOICE October 2012

Ethnohistorian Rostkowski (School of Higher Studies in Social Sciences, Paris) has assembled a series of interviews with 15 prominent indigenous people. In this reviewer’s experience, books on “remarkable Native Americans” often emanate from a theorized or believed view of indigenous peoples existing in tropes of decline. Here, Rostkowski provides an interesting glimpse into the thoughts of prominent indigenous writers, activists, and artists, each speaking to the centralized theme of the work–survivance. Survivance is based upon Gerald Vizenor’s methodology in his work, research, and writings. Defined by Rostkowski, survivance “is the continual assertion of nonterritorial Native sovereignty, which . . . as the condition of their lives as artists, writers, journalists, lawyers, and activists” informs readers. These interviews shed light on how diverse Native American peoples, cultures, and beliefs are in the modern era. The interviews encompass many views, critiques, and thoughts on how people move forward in the future based on what has already been experienced, learned, and remembered. Those interviewed and many others have aided coming generations in raising up frameworks based on survivability and seeking to negotiate present sustainability, all while seeking revitalization of indigenous cultures and epistemologies. Summing Up: Highly recommended. General and undergraduate libraries. —K. J. White, SUNY Oswego

Tatonetti, Lisa. The queerness of Native American literature. Minnesota, 2014. 278p bibl index afp ISBN 9780816692781, $75.00; ISBN 9780816692798 ebook, $25.00.
Reviewed in CHOICE July 2015

Tatonetti’s primary argument seems irrefutable: the accepted canon of post-1960s Native American literature disavowed or disclaimed queer Native American characters, authors, and issues, contributing to a cultural image of Native Americans that stems from what Tatonetti (Kansas State Univ.) calls settler colonialism.  Reminding readers that Native American cultures provided space for third and fourth gender expression, the author highlights the work of previously ignored queer Native American authors and reveals that queer characters and themes are present within the texts that form the Native American literary tradition.  In addition to offering a valuable, illuminated list of queer authors, characters, and themes in Native American literature from the 1970s to the present, Tatonetti examines the images of queer Native people in contemporary narrative film—Big EdenJohnny Greyeyes, and The Business of Fancydancing.  Perhaps the most illuminating are sustained examinations of the works of Louise Erdrich, in which Tatonetti discovers a complex, subtle depiction of queer images and two-spirit characters, and of the work of two under-studied indigenous authors: Maurice Kenny’s poetry in Fag Rag and Janice Gould’s collections of poetry.  Overall, a productive, early step in an effort to enrich and complicate the ways in which to reimagine Native American literature and study. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates and above. —G. D. MacDonald, Virginia State University

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Taylor, Michael. Contesting constructed Indian-ness: the intersection of the frontier, masculinity, and whiteness in Native American mascot representatives. Lexington Books, 2013. 147p ISBN 9780739178645, $60.00; ISBN 9780739178652 ebook, $59.99.
Reviewed in CHOICE November 2013

Careful. Deliberate. Thoughtful. Nuanced. Revealing. Anthropologist and Native American studies scholar Taylor (Colgate Univ.) delivers an important contribution with this artfully crafted examination of Native American mascots. His analytical skill resituates the debate about how Native Americans are represented in the broader US culture in a multilayered discussion connecting gender, race, and place, noting how Native voices are opposed to, defend against, and are drowned out by a white majority intent on reinforcing the boundaries between the conquered and the conquerors. The mythic frontier serves as a backdrop, the dynamics of which are played out on football fields around the US. Taylor begins and ends his book with an account of sitting in his own high school bleachers watching a Seneca student don buckskin and headdress to dance as the team mascot, and sensing the shared confusion of other Seneca students amid a majority white crowd and their realization of the magnitude of self-betrayal in which they are being asked to participate. It is an arresting, haunting depiction of the painful and complicated pathways that young Native students travel in a white world, making choices that may appear to be their own but are actually those that others have set before them. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All levels/libraries. —E. J. Staurowsky, Drexel University