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2006 Jordan Institute
for Families

Vol. 11, No. 2
February 2006

Cultural Considerations for Child Welfare Practice with Native Americans

Help-seeking patterns. For various reasons Native people may be reluctant to seek “official” help. If an individual is unable to resolve a problem on her own, she will commonly turn to the following resources, in this order:

  1. Immediate family

  2. Extended family (cousins, aunts, uncles)

  3. Religious leader

  4. Tribal council/organization

  5. Mainstream resource system

Time. Indian people may not feel a sense of urgency about time. Many will come to an appointment late—or not at all—if they have something they believe is more important to do. Events that may be considered more important can include the needs of family and friends, family crises, ceremonies, or deaths.

Communication Styles

  • Nonverbal: Often Indian people communicate a great deal through nonverbal gestures, such as using downcast eyes or ignoring an individual when they are unhappy with or disagree with a person.

  • Humor: Indians may use humor to express truths or difficult messages, and might cover great pain with smiles or jokes. It is important to listen closely to humor, as it may be seen as invasive to ask for too much clarification.

Criticism. It is often considered unacceptable for an Indian person to criticize another, even if the individual has been exceedingly abusive. There is a common belief that people who have acted wrongly will pay for their acts in one way or another, although the method may not be the legal system.

Sources: AIMHAC, 2004; Dial, 2005

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