Counseling Native Americans with Grief Research Paper

Excerpt from Research Paper :

Grief and Loss within Native American Culture

Section 1: The Topic and Culture

Dealing with grief and loss is a difficult time for people in any culture. For people within the Native American culture, grief and loss present their own unique issues and challenges as a result of the ethnic experience and historical loss thinking of the Native American people (Tucker, Wingate & O’Keefe, 2016). The history of the Native American people is one of sorrow and turbulence yet also of pride and perseverance, and it is important to remember these two points on the spectrum of experience. While grief and loss are pain points, there is the other side of the spectrum or coin in which perseverance and pride can shine through and be found.

Understanding how to deal with grief and loss among Native Americans is particularly important because as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2014) indicates, “death records show that American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) death rates for both men and women combined were nearly 50 percent greater than rates among non-Hispanic whites during 1999-2009.” The leading causes of death for this group are cancer and heart disease—but the most striking statistic is the fact that Native Americans are 50% more likely to die than non-Native Americans in the U.S. Grief and loss, in other words, are literally part of the fabric of living in a Native American culture: it is an aspect of life that simply never goes away and that everyone experiences—far more so than white Americans experience. Native Americans have the highest prevalence of tobacco usage among all populations in the U.S. and suicide rates are 50% higher among Native Americans than they are among white populations (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2014). These statistics suggest a very depressed culture that feels the pain of its heritage and history—the loss of the land that belonged to ancestors and the loss of identity and cultural significance in the great melting pot of the modern American tradition.

Helping this community to cope with grief and loss is essential to furthering the population’s health and well-being. To understand how to help this population, however, it is important to understanding their family dynamics, political and economic concerns, and the way in which they communicate. To best work with Native Americans in addressing their needs, researchers have focused their attention on these specific cultural aspects, which, when studied, can provide ideas that support coping interventions for grief and loss assistance.

What is Important to Know to Best Work with This Population

Family Dynamics

Native American culture is based on the idea that all things are interdependent upon one another (Tachine, Cabrera & Yellow Bird, 2017). Interpersonal context is also important for healing, as Heart et al. (2016) show. Child-rearing can be difficult in the Native American population because of the depressed community and the fact that an inordinate number of Native American children end up in foster homes (Pecora et al., 2017). Many Native American families also lack a relevant cultural framework to pass on to children: they have a Native American heritage but it is not often one that makes sense or applies in the modern world, as Native American author Sherman Alexie has indicated in his numerous works (Hossain & Sarker, 2016). Alexie views life as a Native American as problematic for families because they exist outside the mainstream culture of America and thus suffer from a stigma of being outsiders and failing to connect in a meaningful way to the world around them. Thus, it is not surprising that they fall into depression, suffer from alcoholism, smoke tobacco more than any other group in America, or have a higher suicide rate than whites: they are literally viewed and feel as though they were cut off from the very culture that they long to be a part of, having grown up immersed in white culture from going to the cinemas, watching television, and following along with the American pageantry of life (Hossain & Sarker, 2016). This maladjustment to their situation, particularly on the family front where, as Alexie has noted, so many families consist of multi-generational persons and suffer from a lack of central stability—which is why a disproportionate amount of Native American children end up in foster care. Grief and loss are strong within the community and at the center of the community is the problem of the family unit in Native American culture.

Kinship bonds and strong in traditional families in Native American culture, but traditional families struggle to be relevant or prevalent in modern Native American society, as the people tend to feel displaced within their own families and communities (Hossain & Saker, 2016). Elders and tribal councils are also important in traditional contexts but do not have significance of any particular strength among those who reject the traditional moorings of the Native American heritage. Gender roles are important, especially when it comes to coping with grief and loss, as women play a pivotal role in the healing process (Heart et al., 2016). However, the family dynamic is particular complex and complicated among modern families in the Native American population and must be taken on a case by case basis.

Political and Economic Concerns

Poverty has always been an issue of concern within the Native American culture, and many Native Americans survive on entitlements from the federal government (Grande, 2015). Native Americans have the highest poverty rate of any race in the U.S. at 26%, which is above 30% for Reservation Native Americans…

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…the cross (Porter, Hall & Wang, 2017). Counseling, life coaching and human services from a faith-based approach can provide individuals within this population with a meaningful place to store their grief so that they are not holding onto and trying to shoulder the burden all themselves. Matthew 11:28-30 states, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” In other words, Christ’s commandment is to bring one’s troubles to Him so that He can take them. He does not want people to suffer alone, cut off from others or from God. People are social creatures and God Himself became Man to share in that burden. This is the basis of faith-based counseling. Life coaching can assume the same approach by providing the individual with faith-based encouragement in recognizing that God is part of their life and that they can set goals for themselves that will bring them happiness while also allowing them to stay united to God and keep their sufferings, grief, pain and loss with Him so that it is not forgotten. As it is part of the Native American tradition to assume that past grief and loss that is one’s ancestor’s, this aspect of life coaching should be particularly helpful. Human services using a faith-based approach can provide similar sustenance as it would focus on the importance of providing the person with a religious outlet and becoming part of a community at a church.

Native Americans do not generally have a traditional religious concept and worship for them may take place in nature, on a mountaintop, near a river, in the forest, or anywhere they feel connected to the divine presence. Christianity does play a part in the lives of some Native Americans so there is the traditional incorporation of the church for this group. For them overall there is the recognition of a Creator God who is responsible for bringing life into existence (Maynard & Snodgrass, 2015). The role of the church for this culture really depends on the tribe, the family dynamic and the personal affiliation as there is no general rule. However, in terms of what happens after one dies there is the general idea of being united with the great spirit—but for Christians there is the general idea of facing judgment and so on. Religion’s great utility for this culture is that it can be of assistance in mitigating risks of bad behavior, so an emphasis on incorporating religion into one’s faith-based approach to treating grief and loss can go a long way in inspiring a more responsible reaction to negative experiences. This…

Sources Used in Document:


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2014). American Indian and Alaska Native death rates nearly 50 percent greater than those of non-Hispanic whites. Retrieved from

Garrett, M. T., Williams, C., Curtis, R., Brown, I. T., Portman, T. A. A., & Parrish, M. (2015). NATIVE AMERICAN SPIRITUALITIES AND PASTORAL COUNSELING. Understanding Pastoral Counseling, 303.

Giordano, A., Prosek, E., Stamman, J. et al. (2016). Addressing Trauma in Substance Abuse Treatment. Journal of Alcohol and Drug Addiction, 60(2), 55-71.

Grande, S. (2015). Red pedagogy: Native American social and political thought. Rowman & Littlefield.

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(2016). Women finding the way: American Indian women leading intervention research in Native communities. American Indian and Alaska native mental health research (Online), 23(3), 24.

Hossain, M. A., & Sarker, S. A. N. (2016). Sherman Alexie’s literary works as native American social realistic projections. European Scientific Journal, ESJ, 12(11).

Isgandarova, N. (2018). Muraqaba as a Mindfulness-Based Therapy in Islamic

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