The ANA Messenger: Social Development Edition
The Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians
The Grand Traverse Band (GTB) of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians is located in the northwest section of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. The tribe is composed of 3,982 members, 46 percent of whom live on the reservation or within the tribe’s six-county service area. GTB recently completed a five year Strengthening Families grant from ANA in September of 2011.
Diabetes, obesity, depression, drug abuse and addiction, and achievement gaps in children’s reading and math scores are prevalent in the GTB community. In addition, a disproportionately higher percentage of natives in GTB’s service region are unmarried when compared to other races. GTB believes poor socioeconomic conditions in the community are related to a lack of stable, committed relationships in families; thus, they sought to provide healthy relationships training for tribal members.
The project’s purpose was to increase family well-being by improving the relationship skills of adults and youth in the GTB community. The first two objectives were to train GTB behavioral health clinicians in the evidence-based relationship curriculum Practical Application of Intimate Relationship Skills (PAIRS) for youth and adult populations. The PAIRS curriculum includes five levels of expertise. Levels one and two provide a basis of general relationship health training that allows trainers to extend the curriculum to a variety of age groups. As the levels progress, the trainers gain more precise knowledge on building intimacy within couples and are certified to teach specific curricula. By the project’s third year, five clinicians completed training in levels one and two of the PAIRS curriculum and three clinicians completed levels one through five; these three clinicians maintained their certification throughout the project. In addition to PAIRS training, staff also attended a training provided by the Native Wellness Institute on culturally appropriate relationship-building activities in native communities.
The third objective was to improve relationships among adult couples in the community. Capitalizing on the advanced training staff received, the project director created a 10-week workshop series called PAIRS for LIFE for adult couples that integrated lessons from the PAIRS and Native Wellness curricula, culminating in a “Passion Weekend” retreat. Seven cohorts, totaling 155 adults, participated in the 10-week training. Project staff held three Passion Weekend retreats for 155 adults, where couples made vows of commitment and participated in elements of a traditional marriage ceremony. Ninety-five percent of PAIRS for LIFE participants responded on post-workshop surveys that they learned important skills they can apply to their relationships.
The fourth objective was to teach lessons from the PAIRS curricula to youth and provide them with interpersonal skills to improve their relationships. The clinicians held six 10-week sessions for 30 at-risk youth living in substance abuse foster homes. In addition to participating in classroom instruction, the youth took part in a ropes challenge course where they learned to rely on each other and participate in teamwork exercises. The youth also learned the native tradition of smudging, burning sage and sweet grass to bring in positivity and push out negativity, before each session.
This project skillfully incorporated cultural practices and wisdom into a non-culturally specific evidence-based curriculum. During the Passion Weekend, couples participated in native traditions to solidify their commitment. They received one bowl, to signify they are a unified couple and no longer two separate people, and they braided sweet grass as a symbol for braiding each others’ hair, to demonstrate trust. They also received a native Pendleton blanket, wrapped around them both, to symbolize walking together through life. Learning about these traditions gave couples a cultural model of healthy relationships they could connect to, and non-native spouses gained a deeper appreciation for their spouses’ native identity. The PAIRS curriculum also taught them valuable skills of conflict resolution and healthy interdependency.
Several PAIRS participants indicated a desire to attend the PAIRS classes again or to come in for one-on-one counseling. GTB has also secured a SAMHSA (Substance and Mental Health Services Administration) grant, which includes a funding allotment for relationship training. With community interest and financial support in place, the tribe will be able to sustain its healthy relationship program.