Monday, October 13, 2008

Checking Out Missoula

This morning, Marsha Katz and I visited the Missoula Indian Center's Steve Lohning. I had contacted MIC to learn about Native American and disability issues, but I also knew that Marsha has extensive personal and professional experience with Native American tribes across the country as part of her work with the Rural Institute. Steve had kindly agreed to spend the morning with us, and Marsha was my chauffeur for the day.

Here is a picture of the MIC, located at old Fort Missoula along with several other nonprofits:

The frontof teh Missoula Indian Center at Fort Missoula

Here is the back of the MIC, showing the ramp (nice ramp, eh?):

Back door ramp at Missoula Indian Center

The backstory behind my wanting to visit the MIC is that I'm aware that at Access Living, we serve very few Native Americans with disabilities. We also definitely have very few involved in ADAPT or FRIDA, so as part of my wanting to be committed to being an ally to different communities, I wanted to learn what I could about disability in Native American communities, especially outside Chicago as long as I had the opportunity.

So it turns out that Steve is a non-native who works at the MIC, and seemed like someone trying to make a genuine effort to work to empower efforts led by and for Native Americans, which is as it should be, in my view. He is the Clinical Supervisor for MIC, and it turns out, they just got a grant to develop a peer group of Native Americans with disabilities, so Steve has been collecting names of interested people.

Marsha and I visited with Steve for a couple of hours and touched on several topics of interest on disability and Native American work, but I think it is most useful here on the blog to offer up some of Steve's recommendations for working in a culturally competent/relevant way with Native Americans with disabilities. Just remember, this is from a non-native man, as reported by a non-native woman, so any misperceptions I will claim---just correct me:

1. Be committed. If you say you are going to have outreach to Native Americans with disabilities, follow through or else you're just another program that made promises to Native Americans and failed the community yet again, even if something happens like your funding gets pulled.

2. Do outreach at events that Native Americans attend, such as tabling at powwows or holiday events.

3. If you have an event to attract Native Americans to disability services, serve food. Serve food. Serve food. Very important.

4. Invite people to talk about different tribal cultures so people can learn and exchange knowledge.

5. Depending on tribal cultures, what may appear to others to be hiding of a family member with a disability may not be hiding or shame, as it is in other cultures around the world. Rather, it may be because one tribe member is just standing up for whatever another tribe member needs and this first person is the one who is coming to you for assistance. It's a survival tactic sometimes, to protect your people. Native Americans have a lot of pride in having survived a greatdeal of trauma...and they are still here. So respecting the history and experience of survival is key.

6. Native peoples have a lot of problems with caregivers and it tends to often be because the caregivers they end up with are very unprofessional. This is a problem with many causes...and it is also an issue endemic to the whole personal assistance industry and the community of crips who rely on PAs.

7. Be aware that people may have anger issues depending on their tribal experiences and treatment by other peoples. (Never assuming you know stuff about other people is, in general, a good rule to follow!)

8. Hire Native American people at your place of work to help do outreach to other Native American people. This is the best way to build diversity in outreach.

Steve related sories of several young Native Americans he knows who are struggling as people with disabilities, and I am glad that MIC has this new grant to provide a "space" for this group to grow. He also gave Marsha and I a book by Don Coyhsis White Bison on "wellbriety" the Native American way, explaining that it would help provide insight on some cultural perceptions of well being.

Many thanks to Steve for the time he took to talk with us this morning! I look forward to working with the Chicago disability community to seriously look at outreach with Native Americans in our city.

Next, we headed over to the University of Montana to eat lunch and watch the alternative to Columbus day Native American ceremony at noon at the Oval, seen below:

The University of Montana Oval with mountains behind

Unfortunately, the ceremony was not there, for the first time in six years, apparently! That sucked. Oh well. Onward...

We then dropped by Summit Independent Living Center (ILC) to check out the meeting room and talk with the staff who have been preparing for tomorrow's women with disabilities gathering, especially Mary Olsen and Jude Monson. If you are in the Missoula area, the gathering is tomorrow from 10 am to 12 noon. Afterwards, I will be visiting with staff from the Rural Institute.

Then, driving through town, Marsha took me to Dragon Hollow, which is this really cool playground next to the Missoula Carousel:

The slides at Dragon Hollow, painted like giant dragons

Here is Marsha at Tot Land in Dragon Hollow:

Marsha at the gate to Tot Land at Dragon Hollow

Then we drove on to the Planned Parenthood clinic. There are six in Montana, and on the way, Marsha warned me that protesters might be picketing the clinic when we arrived as that is a regular event there. However, when we got there, there were no picketers in sight. We were let in and then checked out access at the clinic. It is pretty good, but no accessible examining tables. We invited the staff there to come to the Summit women's meeting.

The front of the Planned Parenthood building

Then we stopped at the YWCA of Missoula to check out their access and invite their staff to come too! They seem pretty accessible except for the upstairs offices. The YWCA provides most community support services for women outside of Planned Parenthood. Here is a picture of the front of the YWCA:

The business building for the Missoula YWCA

I realized that the fun part of organizing in smaller cities is you really can be more door-to-door with some of the organizing you do, and I enjoyed that a lot.

So that was today, and tomorrow we are off to the Summit community meeting!