North America's Native Peoples: A Social Justice and Trauma Counseling Approach

Article excerpt

This article understands North America's indigenous peoples in the context of social justice. The authors discuss the role of legislation in shaping cultural contexts of indigenous people and influencing mental health issues in Native American communities. Trauma counseling with Native Americans is explored.

Este articulo entiende a los habitantes indigenas de Norteamerica en el contexto de la justicia social. Los autores discuten el papel que juega la legislacion en la formacion de los contextos culturales de los pueblos indigenas y la influencia que ejerce en los problemas de salud mental en las comunidades de Americanos Nativos. Se explora la terapia de trauma con Americanos Nativos.


In this article, we explore counseling with North America's indigenous peoples in the context of social justice. Social justice is defined as a societal state in which all members of a society have the same basic rights, security, opportunities, obligations, and social benefits (Department of Welfare, Republic of South Africa, 1997). Among North America's indigenous peoples (hereinafter referred to as Native Americans), social justice has been an illusory concept because, time after time, their status as full human beings has not been recognized nor have they been granted full rights as national citizens. A lack of social justice has been at the center of Native American-European American relationships since expansionism and domination of the Native American began with the first war waged against the Pequot tribe in 1637. In this war, women and children were fatally burned in retaliation over trade disagreements (Cave, 1996).

Within the context of social justice, we examine cultural differences in an attempt to help understand the counseling needs of Native Americans. The social justice contexts are (a) the role of legislation in shaping the cultural context of Native Americans, (b) the context of mental health challenges among Native Americans, and (c) counseling with Native Americans in their cultural context. We write this article in hope that the issues raised will help mental health workers continue to provide more effective counseling services for Native American people.

the role of legislation in shaping the cultural context of native americans

In the United States, Native Americans constitute 561 federally recognized tribes and approximately 325 state recognized and unrecognized tribes that are currently applying for federal recognition (U.S. Department of the Interior, Office of the Assistant Secretary-Indian Affairs, Office of Federal Acknowledgment, 2007). In Canada, Native Americans constitute approximately 615 federally recognized First Nations bands in addition to the Inuits, who live in Arctic Canada, and the Metis, who are people of European and Native American mixed heritage with their own treaty rights (Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, 2009a, 2009b, 2009c). In addition, in both Canada and the United States, many people are not officially affiliated with Native American communities but have a Native American heritage that significantly influences their lives. The legislative history of the two countries is somewhat different; however, in both countries, legislation has supported maltreatment of the indigenous people.

Native Americans and mixed-heritage Natives are the only racial/ethnic groups whose identities have been legislated by their governments (for further discussion of the legal status of Native American tribes and their members, see Weatherhead, 1980). To participate in the benefits of tribal treaties (such as land usage, education benefits, health benefits, and proceeds from tribal casinos), these groups must meet specific criteria (Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, 1999; U.S. Department of the Interior, 2006). Examples of these criteria are proving blood quantum ratios (e.g., 25% of one's "blood" must be from a Native American ancestor) and having parents who were enrolled in "Indian tribes" (in the United States) or registered as "status Indians" (in Canada). …