Josie Chase, (Mandan-Hidatsa/Hunkpapa Yanktonai, MSW, LCSW, has practiced social work since 1978. She has extensive experience in child welfare and mental health. Currently, she is on the faculty of Oglala Lakota College in the Department of Social Work.
Healing in Harmony with our Culture
JW: You have spent many years doing front-line social work with children and families. Now you are starting out on some new adventures. Before talking about your work, could you please say something about your journey in becoming a social worker?
JC: I am Mandan/Hidatsa on my father's side and Yanktoni/Hunkpapa on my mother's side, and a member of the Awaxa clan. I was raised on the Fort Berthold reservation in North Dakota. My mother worked in school food services for 35 years and now works as an aid in special education. My father was a rancher who encouraged creative thinking and a sense of adventure. Both have supported me in my endeavors over the years.
My inspiration and motivation to pursue education came largely from my grandmothers, both of whom raised their children as single parents during the depression years. My paternal grandmother. Anna Fredericks Chase, shared with me how she always yearned to attend college. But in the early 1900's this wasn't encouraged with young women. My maternal grandmother, Josephine Gates Kelly, attended Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania for 12 years and then returned to North Dakota to serve as Chairwoman of Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in the 1950's. Both grandmothers encouraged me to acquire an education so I could help the people.
I can see the impact of boarding school and oppression on them. They were both fluent speakers of the tribal languages, but they didn’t teach these languages to their children, who are my parents, because of the fear that came from being punished in boarding school. Yet they always recognized the value of our culture and practiced our traditions.
Josephine Gates Kelly, Chairwoman of Standing Rock Sioux Tribe
My grandmother, who was the Chairwoman, saw the need to be part of the process of improving our lives. Taking responsibility for ourselves. Taking initiative. Understanding who we are and that we are a highly-evolved civilization.
When I went to college I thought I was going to be a nurse, but I found that involved a lot of memorizing. I also found that I had a more natural ability helping people problem solve. Once I started learning more about that in coursework I took to it like a fish to water.
When I did some field placements in an urban Indian clinic and in the school system, I saw a lot of native people having a difficult time accessing services. I also saw that I, like other Natives, could connect with Native children and families more easily than non-Native students could. These experiences helped me see that healing needs to come from within our culture. You have to be sensitive to what the clients identify as their needs rather than coming in with a structured plan or methodology and trying to superimpose that on the culture.
JW: You received you BS in psychology from Portland State University and your Masters in Social Work from the University of Denver. As an Indian woman, did you face any special challenges in school?
JC: In college people were open and interested in my perspective and background. This was very different from my experiences in elementary and high school where I was rarely encouraged, and I didn’t feel validated for academic abilities. In fact, I didn’t think that I had much ability or capacity for academic achievement.
There were times throughout high school and college when I had a real difficult time fitting in because I came from a different perspective. But I could think back and say: I know who I am, and regardless of what’s going on, I have the foundation and security of my family and my culture to support me through this. Knowing what my ancestors endured, often kept me going.
JW: What kind of work have you been doing?
JC: Since receiving my bachelor’s degree, my employment has been in the field of children and family services. I’ve had the opportunity to work with a variety of tribes in the Northwest in both urban and reservation settings. I was also fortunate to work with youth and families at Taos Pueblo in New Mexico. These experiences afforded me cross-cultural practice skills from a tribal perspective and enriched my knowledge base significantly.
In 1992 I began working as a social worker at The Casey Family Program in North Dakota. Initially I was in the Bismarck office, which is off the reservation. There I worked primarily with non-Indian children and foster parents doing intake and case management. When I moved to the Fort Berthold office on the reservation and started working with kinship care, it was a whole different ball game.
JW: What is kinship care?
JC: In traditional foster care, strangers take care of children. In kinship care, relatives take care of their nephews or nieces or grandchildren. Over the years, people have worked with kinship care the same way that they worked with foster care, but that approach hasn’t work very well because the child and family usually have a history together.
Coming from the mindset of traditional foster care, it’s not easy to recognize the strengths of kinship care, but my thinking evolved because I had to make it work. My focus now has been on the strengths in a kinship placement and making those strengths work.
JW: What do you see as some of the strengths?
JC: committed to the child and more willing to hang in there with the child than maybe a non-relative placement might be. Second, usually the child and the kinship caregivers have a prior relationship, and they practice the same culture. The caregivers also often have knowledge of the child’s history and extended family, so the child isn’t displaced from his or her roots.
Kinship care has been an integral practice in tribal cultures for centuries, long before the establishment of formal child welfare services. Kinship care allows children to maintain family and cultural ties, whereas foster care often separated children from these natural helping systems.
JW: How do you work with kinship caregivers?
JC: From the beginning, one must respect their perspective and include them as equal team members and as experts in certain aspects of case management. One must also be sensitive to the dynamics of historical relationships among family members that existed prior to placement. Of greatest importance is that you are working with the entire extended family system. You are not limited to the youth and foster parent dyad, as is common in non-relative care.
Although, kinship care has been used predominantly by people of color, these people weren’t receiving services because they weren’t licensed. The children and families in kinship care have the same needs and issues as children and family in traditional foster care, but the children in kinship care were not getting services such as assessment, counseling, advocacy and medical and dental care. And the adults weren’t getting education, financial support and respite care.
JW: Is that changing? Is it possible now for Indian kinship caregivers to get licensed and be funded for providing care?
JC: It depends. Policy varies from state to state, which, in turn, impacts tribes that receive state funding. However, since tribes are sovereign entities, they do have the option of setting their own policy and standards in accordance with their culture, resources, and needs. Additionally, recent legislation, under the Adoption and Safe Families Act, has been more inclusive and supportive of kinship foster care.
JW: I hope that all kinship care will be adequately funded soon.
What were some of your other tasks at Casey?
JC: I assessed the needs of the children and families on an ongoing basis and supported them in any way that I could. My job was to help children through their loss and grief issues and to facilitate relations with their birth families.
It’s very rewarding. I have one youth who communicates with me every year even though the last time I worked with her was in the 80s.
JW: What have been some of the other rewards of your work?
JC: To see the progress of individuals over time and the changes in practice. To see policy makers recognize the value of kinship placements and to see resources directed toward establishing and stabilizing those placements.
JW:What is your current work?
JC: This year I started developing an independent consulting and contracting practice. I’m doing consulting work with a couple of different projects around child welfare practice. I’m also involved in the Takini Network, and I do some presentations on kinship care.
JW: I understand that you are a Ph.D. candidate in clinical social work at Smith College in Massachusetts.
JC: I thought long and hard about going back to school and consulted with friends and relatives. I felt that I had accomplished a lot in the area of practice but I wanted to go further and develop culturally syntonic clinical interventions—healing interventions that are in synch or harmony with the culture.
I was going to school full time and working time and that had taken a toll on me so I had to leave my full time work, and I’m striking out on my own.
JW: Best wishes to you!
This article was first published in the Summer 2000 issue of Winds of Change. (The cover artist is Helen Hardin, Santa Clara Pueblo.)