Written by Alexandrea and Grace Johnson
To spread awareness on Indian Health Services/Health Care, Great Plains Action Society youth-intern Alexandrea turned to highlight mental health professional Grace Johnson. Here are the questions that were asked in the process with answers provided by Grace.
Let’s get a little bit of background information. Who are you? Where are you from? What is your tribal affiliation(s)? What is your profession? How did you choose your profession?
I am Oglala-Lakota from the Pine Ridge Indian reservation. So I have been a patient at IHS hospitals growing up. I chose to go into the mental health substance abuse field so I am a dual licensed mental health therapist and drug and alcohol counsellor. I chose this profession because of my experiences growing up on my reservation and wanting to understand why Native Americans struggled so much. Adding onto that, my aunt Madonna Blue Horse Beard taught me about the boarding school experience in the early 1990s, which changed my life.
This week Great Plains Action Society is focusing on Indian Health Services/Health Care. In your profession how long have you worked with Indian Health Services (IHS)? What has been the biggest struggle/improvement?
In the past, I have been the Director of the Behavioral Health Department for The Omaha tribe of Nebraska at the Carl T. Curtis HEC. I worked with the Omaha Tribe for two years, I don’t currently work there anymore. One of the hardest parts while working there was that it’s so rural, getting qualified professionals to work there is not easy, and working with a traumatized population has its own challenges. In the position as the Director of Behavioral Health, the tribe ran the program, but received IHS funding so it was a blend of both. I would say lack of funding for IHS is a major problem in the northern plains region. There are different regions of IHS. Some do better than others.
Working as the Behavioral Health Director, one of the biggest improvements was integrating the Substance Use program with the Behavioral Health Department, bringing historical trauma and substance use into the treatment program, and getting the therapists trauma trained. I also worked on fixing the Alcohol and Drug program's building in which it was housed (which was falling apart), it took several months to fix.
Do you have any experiences with IHS good or bad that you can talk about? This doesn’t have to be while working with them, this could be as a patient as well.
I have had both good and bad experiences. A bad experience, I mentioned earlier how working in a rural experience is hard. One of the bad experiences was working in conditions where infrastructure was failing, no cell reception, the heat gave out in my department during the winter, our computers were outdated and dying and at the same time. A good experience was during a suicide crisis the people at IHS authorized emergency funding to be used to get new equipment, which was badly needed
Are there any social media platforms that our audience can find you at/What’s your social media handle?
I have twitter, Facebook and TikTok. As for Facebook, I have two, @RedNationHealing and my personal account is Grace Johnson. On Twitter, @RedNationHlng. Lastly TikTok is LakotaWiyan - @TchingAltar