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Spirit Lake Consulting, Inc.
Caring for Our People with Disabilities & Chronic Illness

"Making life better!"

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Why should we care about culture?

The previous two sections were focused on an introduction to disability. For those of you new to the reservation, and for those old hands who are interested in hearing the stories of others working in your field and in your communities, the next few pages discuss disability in the reservation context. We will return to this theme many times as we discuss different issues related to disability. As this is the introductory workshop for Caring for Our People Training, we give just a brief introduction of cultural issues in different areas.

Many professionals working with persons with disabilities went into their field, whether it is education, speech therapy, medicine, nursing or another related discipline, because they wanted to help people. However, what is defined as ‘helping’ may vary from one culture to another. In one culture, asking about problems within the family may be seen as a necessary first step in providing services. In another, it is perceived as an incredibly rude intrusion by a stranger in areas that are meant to be private.

Connie Lee Berg, from the Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians had this comment on cultural differences in staff practices (reprinted by permission):

"A long time ago, we were told not to ever pretend about disability things because that is bad. We're not supposed to sit in a wheelchair unless we HAD to - we're never supposed to like we were blind - some of the disability awareness things happening are things that we can't do. That's how it is in the Red Lake ways. I consider the awareness presentations as a cultural difference and now just realized that it is also differences amongst Tribes; demonstrates the Tribal diversity - I'm not criticizing anybody for having awareness activities like this going on; but for Red Lake it would be considered a magnificent taboo. I don't kn ow if other Tribes hold this same "belief" and it's like we don't even discuss the ramifications if people do this. We just know that it is something we shouldn't do."

From the Administration on Aging Cultural Competence Guidebook

“It would not be feasible for the social worker to try to memorize cultural traits while trying to become familiar with these families. Subgroups and individuals within particular groups are quite diverse. Instead, the social worker must have an appreciation of the cultural differences between her culture and her clients’, respect her clients’ culture, and behave in a manner that exemplifies this respect. The goals in becoming more culturally competent are to continue to learn about differences and to rid oneself of stereotypes. Cultural competence demands an approach to service recipients in which assumptions are few.”

This guidebook discusses cultural competency in general, with a focus on aging. Much of the specific material discusses African-American or Hispanic elders because these are the two largest populations. However, the book makes many good points that apply to any culture. For example…

This guidebook argues that to achieve cultural competence, professionals must first have a sense of compassion and respect for people who are culturally different. Then, practitioners can learn behaviors that are congruent with cultural competence. Just learning the behavior is not enough. Underlying the behavior must be an attitudinal set of behavior skills and moral responsibility. It is not about the things one does. It is about fundamental attitudes. When a person has an inherent caring, appreciation and respect for others they can display warmth, empathy and genuineness. This then enables them to have culturally congruent behaviors and attitudes.’

We couldn’t agree more. If you are just going through the motions to get “those people” off your back and satisfy “them”, we believe you are destined for failure.

Next: Culturally competent programming for Native Americans.

Spirit Lake Consulting, Inc. -- P.O.Box 663, 314 Circle Dr., Fort Totten, ND 58335 Tel: (701) 351-2175 Fax: (800) 905 -2571
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