Michigan’s tribal community has specific mental health needs, many stemming from historical trauma

Judy Crockett, outpatient therapist, North Country Community Mental Health
Asking for help isn’t always easy. It’s even more difficult when history has proven to be unfair, dismissive, and traumatic to you, your family, and your culture. This is the case for many tribal community members throughout the state. 

North Country Community Mental Health (NCCMH) outpatient therapist Judy Crockett spoke with MI Mental Health about what the agency is doing to provide support for Michigan’s tribal community. Serving children and adults, NCCMH provides 24/7 mental health crisis intervention services, promoting a philosophy of partnership within its communities.

Crockett is from the Eagle clan (Migiizi Nododem) and a tribal member of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians in Peshawbestown in Leelanau County. Having served over 30 years in Indian Country in various roles including a caseworker with Indian Child Welfare, a family court therapist, and a child protective services supervisor, she is very familiar with the unique issues the tribal community faces. 

As an outpatient therapist, Crockett assists the agency in providing mental health services to clients with Medicaid and referral services to make sure those in need can receive additional health services, including psychiatry services. 

According to Crockett, Michigan’s tribal community has specific needs, many stemming from historical trauma. 

“It is important to acknowledge the lasting effects of historical and current trauma,” she says. “It is important to understand that many tribal elders and middle-aged adults experienced devastating child removal and active U.S. policies to decimate our native families. Our Elders continue to deal with these horrific experiences that rendered them largely unable to trust people who are not from their communities.”

“It is important to understand that many tribal elders and middle-aged adults experienced devastating child removal and active U.S. policies to decimate our native families." ~ Judy Crockett
In order to address these needs, a certain level of trust is needed. 

“Our rights as citizens of our nations and to determine our ability to preserve our culture, languages and families are paramount,” she says. “Many non-native professionals would need to earn the trust of tribal communities and be prepared to learn the profound effects of historical and current trauma our communities have experienced. This should compel professionals to be respectful learners if there is consideration to work in tribal communities/tribal affiliated families.  We walk in two worlds; we walk on two roads, it is said, as we live and function both on the ‘white road’ and ‘red road.’ Many of us skillfully straddle both in response to living in a non -native society. Some Indigenous people remain understandably mistrustful and eschew all foreign influence.”

Michigan has 12 federally recognized tribes. Crockett estimates her tribe has 4,000 members, with roughly 1,600 to 1,800 of those members living in Grand Traverse, Antrim, Charlevoix, Benzie, Leelanau, and Kalkaska counties. (NCCMH serves three of these — Antrim, Charlevoix, and Kalkaska — as well as Emmet, Cheboygan, and Otsego counties.) Across the United States, there are over 560 distinct tribal nations. 

While traditional best practices are generally effective in non-native mental health treatment, Crockett says these methods aren’t singularly beneficial for tribal communities.

“Currently, many native communities have traditional healers that provide effective healing ceremonies in conjunction with therapy. Tribal communities have worked hard to regain their sense of community and advocate for themselves,” she says. “When we see advances on the national political realm to dismantle the protections of keeping our children with their communities and families and out of the control of non-native adoptions and foster placements, it is critical for us to fight that. [There is a need for] understanding that the well being of our tribal communities has positive outcomes for the hearts and minds of each individual and their families. When they feel safe and protected, our people thrive.”

“Our lifeways should be respected, and many nations are retaking their own autonomy and agency." ~ Judy Crockett

Working in a non-tribal agency, Crockett experiences specific challenges, including lack of representation in leadership and lack of cultural education and awareness. 

“Clients of color may feel pressure to educate their therapist about their culture,” she says. “We may need to implement far more frequent trainings and opportunities to learn about other cultures beyond the annual cultural competency or implicit bias training. We may be afforded a great opportunity to benefit those on our caseloads who had the immense courage to come to us for help.”

Looking ahead, Crockett hopes the native community’s life ways, ceremonies, and cultural teachings are both acknowledged and celebrated as effective treatments. She hopes to see more therapists and mental health professionals utilize these when working with tribal families.

“This includes the legal system, medical system, and religious systems,” she says. “Our lifeways should be respected, and many nations are retaking their own autonomy and agency. These efforts serve to ensure our tribal communities are afforded safe, reliable futures without fear of dismissal and disregard.”

Sarah Spohn is a Lansing native, but every day finds a new, interesting person, place, or thing in towns all over Michigan, leaving her truly smitten with the mitten. She received her degrees in journalism and professional communications and provides coverage for various publications locally, regionally, and nationally — writing stories on small businesses, arts and culture, dining, community, and anything Michigan-made. You can find her in a record shop, a local concert, or eating one too many desserts at a bakery. If by chance, she’s not at any of those places, you can contact her at sarahspohn.news@gmail.com.

Photo of drummers by Taylor Scamehorn.
Photo of the Jacobs by Harold Powell. 
Photo of Judy Crockett and logo courtesy North Country CMH.

The MI Mental Health series highlights the opportunities that Michigan's children, teens and adults of all ages have to find the mental health help they need, when and where they need it. It is made possible with funding from the Community Mental Health Association of Michigan, Center for Health and Research Transformation, Genesee Health System, Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan, North Country CMH, Northern Lakes CMH Authority, OnPoint, Sanilac County CMH, St. Clair County CMH, Summit Pointe, and Washtenaw County CMH.

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