Speaking in the Borrowed Language:
Mental Health as an Agent of Cultural Oppression
Dr. David Walker is a clinical psychologist serving the Yakama Indian people through the Yakama Indian Health Service in Toppenish, in the sovereign Yakama Nation, which is surrounded by the state of Washington.
In his desire to be of service, he seeks to accommodate, modify, reconstruct, deconstruct, and discard his own philosophical and technical psychotherapeutic assumptions. He has “sought to be taught,” evolving a collaborative mode of mutual inquiry with his clients. His "licensing requirement" by the tribal community includes investigating the collective history of his own cultural heritage in relation to that of his clients. He is also required by the community to exert a willingness to “suspend belief,” and to remain flexible and critically inquisitive as to the roots of his own motives, therapeutic and otherwise. These efforts are just the beginning to forging an acceptable partnership between psychoanalytic (and other Euro-centric) ideas and those of ancient Yakama Indian cosmology, faith, tradition, healing, and daily custom.
Not surprisingly, such willingness and effort tends to disrupt basic assumptions of a conventional mental health approach already existent within the Yakama locale. As Dr. Walker attempts to open up his mind, heart and spirit to the established cultural wisdom of those who consult with him, aspects of majority culture oppression and intolerance embedded historically within psychoanalysis and psychotherapy arise to suppress and punish revisionism. Dr. Walker opts to publicly surface, confront, and challenge pharmaceutical-capitalist and mental health missionary efforts to dupe Native people into believing that, in addition to suffering from an intergenerational genocide and ethnocide virtually invisible to much of American society, they are also “brain-injured”, “chemically-imbalanced”, and “mentally-ill”.
tragic results, members of numerous cultures, particularly American
Indian, have learned that the EuroAmerican "story" typically
prescribes subjugation, domination, oppression, and annihilation in
response to cultural difference and conflict. Cultural oppression,
ethnocide, and genocide of American Indians has occurred overtly and covertly for
over 500 years with no signs of abating. Within the historical
"intercultural space" between EuroAmericans and American
Indians, there exist six clearly-identifiable "eras of cultural
trauma" representing attempts to "colonize" the life
experience of American Indian cultures (Duran & Duran, 1995).
Collective resistance to EuroAmerican colonization of the mind, heart,
body, and spirit of American Indians has been maintained at enormous
cost to individuals, families, and their associated tribes and bands.
Dr. Walker’s gradual acceptance and support by a closed and skeptical community of Indian people signals hope for the future of an intercultural psychoanalysis (which his clients call “the power of naming”) as well as for the importance of public advocacy on behalf of the work we do. Simultaneously, he invites our participation as guests in a compelling world that Yakama people and their ancestors have defended repeatedly with great courage and tenacity.
Dr. David Walker completed his doctoral training at the University of Detroit in 1992 with dissertation research on cross-cultural features of emotional expression in the human voice. He has continued to explore the "intercultural space" between humans via a variety of unique experiences from multicultural clinical settings to international organizational consultation. He serves as a Clinical Psychologist to the sovereign Yakama Nation in Central Washington, the second largest American Indian reservation in the United States, via employment with the Indian Health Service. The views and opinions offered by Dr. Walker are entirely his own and do not represent official views of the Indian Health Service, the United States Department of Health and Human Services, or the Federal Government of the United States.
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