The Barbara Schneider Foundation will work together with four Native nations--Red Lake Nation, White Earth Nation, Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa and Rosebud Sioux Tribe--to create culturally distinct programs for prevention of and intervention in mental health crisis and wellness recovery. Each Nation will identify strengths, needs, priorities and barriers to wellness, and develop a collaborative response plan for their community.
What has been most instrumental to your progress?:
Community conversations as planning processes were the most important activities instrumental in making progress. These community conversations took place primarily in Rosebud, Pine Ridge and Rapid City. Our Rapid City conversations were and continue to be the most significant. They have had a transformative impact on the relationships between Native and non-Native communities there. They have produced active Community Innovation Teams that have already done concrete work to address underlying causes of trauma and stress in Rapid City and they have inspired others across South Dakota to join in and create a state wide innovation effort with national impact. The Rapid City Community Conversations were our response to the officer involved shooting of a Native man in December 2014 and community involvement was fueled by an incident in the Rapid City Civic Center where beer was spilled on Native children. These two traumatic incidents represented for many the underlying racism against Native people that contributes to deteriorating wellness and poor mental health outcomes.
One day de-escalation trainings were very helpful for law enforcement, corrections, human services and educators as well. In Rosebud, we ran one training at Sinte Gleska University for human service, justice and education professionals. In addition we held two sessions for corrections at the adult detention center. Another was held for teachers at St Francis Indian School. In Pine Ridge we held a one day de-escalation training for tribal police and federal agents in Pine Ridge and another for corrections officers in Kyle. We held a training for law enforcement in Boise Forte as well. We discussed the possibility of trainings with Rapid City Police Department and Regional Hospital in Rapid City. They have yet to schedule trainings with us.
40 hour CIT trainings were also provided. Four officers from Oglala Sioux Tribe Department of Public Safety attended a 40 hour CIT training in Minneapolis and these officers assisted us in putting on the one day trainings in Pine Ridge and Kyle. They also put on a 3 day CIT training with us at the National Native American Law Enforcement Summit in Las Vegas, this brought their work at Pine Ridge to a national forum where many were introduced to CIT for the first time.
Key lessons learned:
Relationship building is the heart of the work and the key to success. We made monthly or more trips to South Dakota over the last 18 months. This enabled us to develop and strengthen relationships with our partners there. They appreciate our consistency and have grown excited about the possibility that over time our work together can achieve transformative change in their communities. It has been very important to have a Native training team working with us in these travels. We have brought seven Native individuals on various trips and they have assisted in several aspects of this work. Key to our success has been our partnership with LeMoine LaPointe, who has deep roots in several South Dakota Native communities and a lifetime of experience at facilitation. Having him at the front of the room, leading the conversation has helped strengthen confidence in the Native community members and has been a new experience for most non-Natives. We have included Lakota cultural elements in our gatherings that has involved singing, drumming, prayer, honoring and other traditional Lakota practices.
Communities can come together quickly around a positive vision for the future in community conversations. Our first host planning team meeting of 30 participants in Rapid City in January 2014 was all Native. The first conversation was about half and half, Native and non-Native. The room was divided along those lines. We began with a Lakota song and an exercise where we each identified one value we brought to the conversation. This was a very positive, affirming experience and as the day progressed very serious conversations were held around contentious issues, but in a calm, respectful way. No one from City government accepted our invitation to attend. Four months later, we had the mayor, police chief, 2 patrol officers, ceo of the hospital, head of the Chamber of Commerce, Educators, Clergy, and many Native and Non-native community members in the room at our 4th conversation. In the shadow of the tragedy in Ferguson and other communities, we had demonstrated that principled relationships, conversation that was forward thinking, was possible, even in a tense moment involving a racist assault and an officer involved shooting.
Building a local training team of committed partners from the community is essential. In each of our conversations we sought to convene a host planning team so that the conversation and its content was guided by members of the local community. This has been key to our success. We have been supporting local community members in their efforts to work to transform their own communities. There is no outside agenda. Particularly in Rapid City and Pine Ridge this has been very successful. The demonstration of the effectiveness of this approach is encouraging Rosebud to form a Host Planning Team and we anticipate initiation of Host Planning Teams in a variety of other communities.
Reflections on the community innovation process:
Cycles of innovation on innovation builds small successes into real social change. This cyclical process that builds upon itself has been an important part of our work.
Progress toward an innovation:
In Rapid City, the community is now working with local officials and elites. This is in contrast to the history where Natives have been disrespected and excluded from policy and community development processes. In Pine Ridge, a leadership core is coming together around a vision for the future of their community. Our partners there see this as a grass roots effort that can strengthen community. Others are seeing the success and wanting to be part of the process. In both cases the innovation has been the opening up of policy processes to strong community involvement. This engages a whole new possibility for increasing hope, tapping into the rich culture of Lakota communities and bringing a powerful, just and equitable future into the present in South Dakota.
What it will take to reach an innovation?:
We have achieved some level of innovation but the innovation process is by no means complete. It is wrapped up in the history of the doctrine of discovery, manifest destiny, illegal taking of land by settlers and the government and pervasive racist policy rooted in a flawed 19th century view of Indigenous people. Our work has not focused on past injustices or tragedies but on future possibilities. But the pain of the past weighs heavily on the communities and is a major cause of the poor mental health outcomes. Building bridges, strengthening partnerships, achieving possibilities opens the door to resolution of underlying wrongs. Resolutions that will benefit all communities and not just be another zero sum solution.
Our Rapid City Community Conversation process and our Pine Ridge Community Conversation Process have agreed to put on a Community Innovation Team Summit in Winter of 2017 and to invite host planning teams from around South Dakota and beyond to attend. Organizing for this event has begun. Major national speakers will be invited, we are seeking sponsors. This was just decided at our First Annual Community Innovation Team Summit in Rapid City. This will provide a model other Native communities can look to as they work for transformation in their own communities. And it is a model for the nation, in stark contrast to the adversarial processes in other communities where the community has lost faith in local and national institutions, and where elected and other leaders have lost their ability to connect with their communities in an affirmative, forward thinking way.
If you could do it all over again...:
Our original grant application relied too much on our own efforts and on BSF staff. We have found we can multiply our work by relying much more on local partners in all the communities.
One last thought:
Thanks. We as a nation have so much to learn from our Lakota partners and the other indigenous communities who have maintained the continuity of their rich cultural resources.