VOICES FROM THE CIRCLE: Career Planning Strategies for Serving Low-Income, Urban Native Americans

Article excerpt

Introduction

Messages about Native American communities usually depict dismal levels of dysfunction and distress. Unemployment, poverty, broken families, suicide, alcoholism, drug abuse, domestic violence, sexual abuse, and mental illness, as well as low levels of educational attainment or aspirations place career development practitioners in a predicament: how to wade through the multiple and co-occurring barriers, in a culturally competent manner, while empowering our fellow human beings to recognize and act on their potential and purpose.

As a caveat, my experiences as a career development facilitator, serving urban Native Americans in a local TANF (Temporary Assistance to Needy Families) social service organization, do not transcend the complexities of diversity within and among tribal communities. The strategies presented then, are not automatically importable or appropriate for all Native American contexts. Native TANF provides cash assistance and supportive services to Native American families that live below the poverty line and have at least one child in the family unit that is a Native American or a descendant of a Native American. Thus, the common denominator binding the experiences of our tribal participants is a deep level of poverty.

Also, my experiences and the meaning making that unfold from my interactions with low income urban Native Americans represents a complicated process where the intersection of culture, communication, and identity depend on my deep faith and devotion to Creator, a belief that is not necessarily re-producible or personally valued in all "helpers." Assisting participants in developing vocational identities is inextricably linked to cultural identity. Although career practitioners understand culture's paramount importance, in Native American communities, culture is an expression of spirituality. Serving Native American communities well depends on a practitioner's ability to see spirit in all things, to grasp the interconnectedness of all things, and to understand that one cannot just help individuals, but must assist entire communities. Many Native Americans call this devotion of service to self and community the Red Road. The following presents four specific strategies to more effectively and respectfully serve Native Americans. The four concepts include intergenerational trauma, interconnectedness, language medicine, and the great circle metaphor. Despite variation and diversity within and among tribes, our elders suggest rightly that we carry more similarities than differences. These similarities provide critical insight. They suggest that our equal positions, as evidenced and expressed through spirit, create the foundation from which we can all relate.

Demographic Background

The 2000 US Census Special Report indicates that the population of American Indian and Alaska Natives totals 2,447,989, which represents 0.87 per cent of the U.S. population. The 2010 Census indicates 5.2 million. A few tribes with the heaviest population densities include: Cherokee (302,569); Navajo (276,775); Sioux (113,713); Chippewa (110,857). California is the most heavily populated with 723,225, followed by Oklahoma (482,760) and Arizona (353,386).

Only speak English at home: 82.1 per cent.

Speaks English very well but do not speak English in the home: 9.8 per cent.

Speaks English less than very well and do not speak English in the home: 8.1 percent.

High School Diploma: 28.6 per cent.

Less than High School Education: 19.6 per cent.

Some College or Associate's Degree: 27.4 per cent

Bachelor's or Higher: 24.4 per cent.

Men in Labor Force: 70.7 per cent.

Native American Men in Labor Force: 65.6 per cent.

Women in Labor Force: 57.5 per cent.

Native American Women in Labor Force: 56.8 per cent.

US Male Median Earnings: $37,057

US Female Median Earnings: $27,194

American Indian & Alaskan Men: $28,919

American Indian & Alaskan Women: $22,824

US Population Living in Poverty: 12. …