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World Psychology: Psychology by Country · Psychology of Displaced Persons

Native American psychology is an example of an indigenous psychology

The concept of "parallel lives" is a useful one for understanding more recent Native American experience so as to better understand how Native American indigenous ways of knowing have been impacted by historical events following the arrival of European and other settlers to the North American continent. Ed Edmo, a well-known Native American storyteller, author, and poet, comparing his experience of the deliberate flooding of Celilo Falls near The Dalles, Oregon in order to build a dam with that of his friend Lani Roberts, a European-American, writes: "our lives were lived in parallel fashion because of the differences in our ethnic heritage," and "we grew up in the same geographical space but lived in radically different worlds" as a result of the "profound racism" that Native people have suffered (Xing, 173-4).

An excellent resource for better understanding Native American Psychology in terms of pathology stemming in large part from the traumas inflicted on Native American peoples as a result of their contact with European settlers, is Harold Napoleon’s slim but powerful book Yuuyaraq: The Way of the Human Being. Harold Napoleon is a Yup’ik Eskimo who wrote his book to try to make sense of the profound sadness of his people, and to understand how he came to cause the death of his own son as a result of alcohol abuse. In the book, Harold suggests that his people were suffering from a kind of post-traumatic stress syndrome as a result of the "Great Death" in which his culture and people were nearly wiped out by disease and other traumatic experiences resulting from contact with European settlers. He further suggests that denial, nallunguarluku, literally ‘pretending it didn’t happen,’ has become something of a cultural trait, one manifestation of which is difficulty in talking about painful circumstances…which can lead to alienation, anger, and self-destructive behavior that some people seek to numb with alcohol" (Napoleon, viii).

Napoleon writes: "Yuuyaraq (the way of the human being) encompassed the spirit world in which the Yup’ik lived. It outlined the way of living in harmony with this spirit world and with the spirit beings which inhabited this world" (Napoleon, 5). Despite the traumas inflicted on Native peoples, from the Great Death(s) to the forced migration and relocation of the Trail of Tears and reservation life, this connection to spirit is something which Native Americans have in common with other racial/ethnic minority groups in the United States, such as African Americans, Asian Americans, and Latino/Hispanic Americans which all "place strong emphasis on the interplay and interdependence of spiritual life and healthy functioning" (Sue, 226). While in the West, "incorporating religion in the rational decision-making process or in the conduct of therapy has generally been seen as unscientific and unprofessional," such spiritual "indigenous healing methods are beginning to be seen as having much to offer Western forms of mental health practice (Sue, 225). These contributions are valuable "not only because multiple belief systems now exist in our society, but also because counseling and psychotherapy have historically neglected the spiritual dimension of human existence (Sue, 228). It is certain that Western psychology has much to learn from pathological as well as positive psychological traits associated with specific indigenous psychological experiences and ways of knowing.

In the interest of bridging the gap between contemporary forms of therapy and traditional non-Western indigenous healing, Derald Wing Sue and David Sue propose the following 7 guidelines for Western-trained therapists in dealing with clients of non-Western and indigenous cultures:

  1. Do not invalidate the indigenous belief systems of your culturally diverse clients.
  2. Become knowledgeable about indigenous beliefs and healing practices.
  3. Realize that learning about indigenous healing and beliefs entails experiential and lived realities.
  4. Avoid overpathologizing and underpathologizing a culturally diverse client’s problems.
  5. Be willing to consult with traditional healers or make use of their services.
  6. Recognize that spirituality is an intimate aspect of the human condition and a legitimate aspect of mental health work.
  7. Be willing to expand your definition of the helping role to community work and involvement. (Sue, 229-30)

Another important contributor to Native American indigenous psychology, was Rupert Ross (1992, 2006). Although in Canada, Ross’ efforts remain relevant to many Native American cultures, especially in Alaska. Ross (1992, 2006) who, while working as a Crown Attorney with First Nations went beyond the confines of the current criminal justice system to explore the aboriginal people who were forced to adhere to it.

Ross (1992) found physiological and psychological differences that prevented aboriginal people proper justice. The ethics of non-interference, that anger not be shown, respecting praise and gratitude, the conservation-withdrawal tactic, and the notion that the time must be right were rules that guided traditional time (Ross, 1992, 13-44). Although assimilating to a degree, Ross (1992) suggested that perhaps there were areas of knowledge from them that our nation could learn from (Ross, 1992, p. 75-77). Even the western scientific method of studying cause of effect differed, as the First Nation believed that humans should not give cause, hence should have no effect on their environment (Ross, 1992, p. 75-77). Ross (1992, 2006) wrote two books on the subject, entitled Dancing With a Ghost: Exploring Aboriginal Reality and Returning to the Teaching: Exploring Aboriginal Justice.


CteporyAmerican indians

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