Arthur McDonald

Enhancing Care of the Underserved

Art Arthur McDonald, Oglala Lakota, PhD, was the first American Indian man to earn a PhD in psychology. In 2000 he was awarded the Presidential Citation American Psychological Association (APA) for his “invaluable contributions not only to psychology but to American Indians and Alaskan Natives and underserved people throughout the nation.” The following article was published in the Autumn 2000 issue of Winds of Change magazine.

Dr. Arthur McDonald’s distinguished career began in 1966, when he received a PhD in psychology. For six years following his graduation from the University of South Dakota, McDonald taught psychology at Montana State University in Bozeman where he became head of the department of psychology.

From the start, McDonald was keenly aware of the need for American Indian psychologists who could contribute to the health of Native people and serve as role models for future generations of Native psychologists. McDonald worked hard to bring Native people into psychology, but he was discouraged. “The federal government does it backwards,” he says. “They were willing to support Indian students in graduate programs, but there weren’t many undergraduates to draw from. The pipeline needed to go back much further.”

Aware that students who want to become psychologists need to begin preparing early if they want to enter this competitive field, McDonald left Montana State and returned to the Northern Cheyenne Reservation where he served as director of education. In time he was instrumental in founding Dull Knife Memorial College where he was academic dean from 1984 until 1986 and then president until 1995.

McDonald realized that most students at Dull Knife had little or no exposure to Indian psychologist role models, so over the years he brought in 17 Indian psychology graduate students who taught classes and counseled students. He was also aware of the need for funding for Indians in psychology and so led others in urging Congress to support efforts that eventually led to the INPSYCH programs.

McDonald knew that Indian people have a great deal to offer psychology. It was difficult, however, to help non-Indians understand this because, says McDonald, the “encyclopedias of healing are written in the Elders’ heads”. This knowledge is “stored in the libraries of walking, not the libraries of the universities”.

Today McDonald is President of the Morning Star Memorial Foundation, a foundation that supports Indian people in such areas as youth, education, elder care, mental health, and preservation of the language. He continues to be a role model for many people, including his own children. One of his sons,
Dr. Doug McDonald, is a psychologist and head of the INPSYDE program at the University of North Dakota. Another son is a painter, and his daughter is a licensed counselor.

Over the years when McDonald advocated for Indian people at various meetings, he would come home discouraged and tell his wife that no one seemed to be listening to him. After the award ceremony at the APA Convention, which included spontaneous tributes by scores of people whose lives have been touched by him, McDonald’s wife pointed out that people had indeed been listening. McDonald has made significant contributions to Indian people and is continuing to do so.
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This article above originally was published in the Autumn 2000 issue of Winds of Change. (The cover artist is Roy Henry Vickers, Tsimshian and English.)

The following is the statement the Patrick DeLeon, read on August 6, 2000 when he presented the Presidential Citation to Arthur L. McDonald, PhD.

“On the occasion of its 108th Annual Meeting, the American Psychological Association wishes to formally recognize your tireless efforts to gain increased psychological services to American Indians and Alaska Natives and other underserved populations in rural areas.

You have been an ardent advocate, raising awareness of the pervasive and sometimes devastating health problems of American Indians, including: chronic disease, disability, alcohol and drug abuse, which are far above national norms, and adolescent suicide that is the highest in the nation. At the same time, you have continually reminded us that there exists great strength, beauty, and wisdom within American Indian and Alaska Native cultures and communities that serves as an inspiration for people everywhere.

Your tenacity, patience and perseverance has been instrumental in forging alliances with individuals and organizations seeking to gain support from Members of Congress for programs that would increase psychological services to American Indians. Because of your vision and personal commitment, in 1992 Congress established the Indians into Psychology Program - the only federal program dedicated to the education and training of American Indian psychologists.

In addition, your work in the area of rural health has been extraordinary. You not only helped develop the rural Interdisciplinary Curriculum and Handbook to provide behavioral health care to rural populations, you also increased the awareness of the need for including cultural competence in all projects of the APA Committee on Rural Health.

Through your participation in the APA Commission on Ethnic Minority Recruitment, Retention and Training, the Diversity Project 2000, and the APA National Institute for General Medical Sciences Project, you have promoted culturally-appropriate training of future American Indian and Alaska Native psychologists at various levels of psychology's educational pipeline.

Additionally, your participation in the Center for Mental Health Services School Violence Prevention Software Project is ensuring that the nation's school and youth violence prevention efforts will not only speak to the needs of American Indian youth, but will also underscore the strengths of their families, communities, and cultures.

Your long and passionate service on the Advisory Committee of the Minority Fellowship Program has resulted in increased sensitivity to training issues that affect American Indian students. You have enlightened and challenged doctoral psychology programs thereby strengthening and improving the quality and effectiveness of their programs, and providing increased support for ethnic and racial minority students.

Recently, in support of psychological science, you alerted the Montana Congressional delegation about the importance of APA's Decade of Behavior Initiative, and garnered 100 percent participation from your Senators. Because of your efforts, Senators Conrad Burns and Max Baucus sent a letter to President Clinton on behalf of the Decade initiative.

In honor and recognition of these and many other invaluable contributions that you have made, not only to psychology, but to American Indians and Alaska Natives and underserved people throughout the nation, it is with great pleasure that the American Psychological Association presents this Presidential Citation.”