Developing Choctaw Women Health Leaders – Karina Walters, Ph.D.


My tribe was the one that survived the
Trail of Tears, so the idea is we re-walk the Trail of Tears not to be in the drama of the trauma but rather to reconnect with the vision of
love and life that our ancestors held for us, and as we reconnect to that
vision of love and life we begin to make our own health changes, both individually
and the community level, and we build a nation of Choctaw women health leaders
in the process. The project that we have right now with the Yappalli, with my own tribe, is an individual intervention working to help women address their own
obesity and substance abuse needs but at the same time we develop them through their model of first working on themselves – we use motivational
interviewing, we do all kinds of more individually oriented work with them – but it’s all based on a cultural model of well-being and our ancient clan
systems and what can we learn from our own cultural stories about how to be
healthful in the world, and then we layer on top of that how to develop them into
becoming community-based health leaders at the community level. So out of this
program they move from starting with themselves to becoming community based
health leaders so they step into this program with the idea not of I’ve got a
problem that I’m trying to solve in myself but rather, I’m stepping up to the
responsibilities of myself to the community and stepping into a role at
the community level. So at the end of the five years we should have 150 Choctaw
women health leaders in our communities who are set up to and who have been
trained to do community events for prevention purposes if the health needs
arise. So, for example, if somebody has a drug overdose in a community all the
women who decided that they were the White Crane clan – so we base everything
on clan systems and they kind of select which clan they’re going to be a part of –
all the women of the White Crane clan would be the ones responsible for doing
a prevention event – a substance abuse prevention event right after that event
happens. So she would call all the other White Crane women in all of the other
tribal communities and ask them to come to support her in an event. It’s not based
on money. It’s not based on – it’s really based on fulfilling a social
role and a cultural role as women because we were responsible as Choctaw women to return the balance when things were upended. If there was upheaval our job
was always to restore the balance. And so in this way these women are stepping up
to their health roles, they’re becoming community leaders, and they’re all
trained in models of prevention to be able to work together. Not based on money but based on making a phone call and women stepping up and saying okay I’m
trained I’m ready and I’m going to serve. So to me that fits really well with
social work, all the way to the individual, all the way to the community
levels. So I can’t think of a better place for it to be.

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