Academic journal article Journal of Humanistic Counseling, Education and Development

Honoring the Power of Relation: Counseling Native Adults

Academic journal article Journal of Humanistic Counseling, Education and Development

Honoring the Power of Relation: Counseling Native Adults

Article excerpt

   A comprehensive discussion of counseling Native adults is presented through
   historical overview, demographics, and exploration of Native culture.
   Implications for counseling Native adults are offered with humanistic
   emphasis on identity, humor, cultural considerations, career planning,
   proactive practice, creating trust, and practical recommendations for
   conducting sessions.

   When questioned by an anthropologist on what Indians called America before
   the white man came, an Indian said simply, "Ours."

      --Deloria (1988, p. 166)

Deloria's (1988) opening quote sets the stage for a discussion on counseling Native American Indian and Alaskan Native (henceforth referred to as Native in adjective form) adults. Over the past 20 years, the United States has witnessed many social, cultural, and demographic shifts that continue to mold contemporary society as a population of diverse peoples (Herring, 1995). However, historical factors continue to exert a powerful influence on the experiences of many Native peoples. This article explores the implications for counseling Native people by conveying the importance of historical context, cultural identity/acculturation, and tribal worldview on the growth and development of this population.


There are many definitions of the terms Native American or American Indian. The U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs (1988) legally defines Native American as a person who is an enrolled or registered member of a tribe or whose blood is one fourth or more genealogically derived from Native American ancestry. The U.S. Bureau of the Census (1991), meanwhile, relies on self-identification to determine who is a Native person. Oswalt (1988) points out, however, that

   if a person is considered an Indian by other individuals in the community,
   he or she is legally an Indian ... [in other words], if an individual is on
   the roll of a federally recognized Indian group, then he or she is an
   Indian; the degree of Indian blood is of no real consequence, although
   usually he or she has at least some Indian blood. (p. 5)

A generic term for Native peoples does not exist (Herring, 1997a, 1997b). American Indian is one ethnic descriptor that has been used as a referent for all North American Native peoples, "including Indians, Alaskan Natives, Aleuts, Eskimos, and Metis, or mixed bloods" (LaFromboise & Graft Low, 1989, p. 115). Other commonly used designations include Native American, Indian, First or Original American, Alaskan Native, Amerindian, or Amerind. Insensitive aspects are embedded in each of these labels. We use the term Native American to refer to those Native peoples indigenous to the lower 48 states who self-identify as Native American and who maintain cultural identification as a Native person through membership in a Native American nation or tribe recognized by the state or federal government or through other tribal affiliation and community recognition. We use Alaskan Native to identify those Native peoples of Alaska (acknowledging the existence of Native American Indian groups in Alaska).

Ideally, the name of Native nations or tribes should be used rather than a generic name. Native people tend to identify first as members of a specific nation or tribe, then as Native peoples. Using appropriate tribal designations recognizes the diversity of Native people and may enhance Native adults' pride in self and community.


Many authors have chronicled the deliberate attempts in U.S. history by the mainstream communities (e.g., government agencies, schools, and churches) to destroy Native institutions of family, clan and tribe, religious belief systems, customs, and traditional ways of life (Deloria, 1988; Heinrich, Corbine, & Thomas, 1990; Herring, 1989, 1997a; Locust, 1988; Reyhner & Eder, 1992). Concurrently, characterized by institutional discrimination, Native peoples have also experienced a history of misunderstanding of cultural values by the dominant culture (Deloria, 1988; Herring, 1997a; Locust, 1988). …

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