Behavioral health and wellness programs launched for BIE tribal schools

To'Hajiilee Community School, a tribally run school that is federally funded, can benefit from the mental health program offered by the Interior Department that will include a 24/7 crisis hotline, on-site crisis support and the clinical team will primarily be staffed with Indigenous clinicians who have experience working with Indigenous communities. (Photo by Jeanette DeDios for Source NM)

Tribal schools funded by the Bureau of Indian Education will receive additional funding to increase access to behavioral health and wellness support programs.

“The Interior Department is committed to creating positive, safe and culturally-relevant learning environments,” Secretary of Interior Deb Haaland said in the funding announcement on June 29.

The programs will provide virtual counseling and on-site crisis services for students and staff at tribal schools, the department stated.

“I am proud of the hard work by the Bureau of Indian Education to ensure that Indigenous youth have the support they need in a culturally-relevant and supportive environment for their physical, mental and emotional well-being,” Haaland said.

There are 183 Bureau-funded elementary and secondary schools. Of those, 55 are BIE-Operated and 128 are tribally controlled, according to the BIE.

“Our schools play an important role in the lives of students, faculty and staff, and tribal communities,” Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Bryan Newland said in a press release.

The behavioral health and wellness program established by the BIE provides Indigenous-focused, evidence-based and trauma-informed support services, according to the Department of Interior, and the services are developed to meet the mental, cultural, spiritual, emotional and social needs of Indigenous communities served by the BIE.

“By providing these resources, we will help our students and BIE team succeed inside the classroom,” Newland said. “Even more importantly, we will help promote the mental and physical well-being of entire communities.”

The services will include tele-behavioral health counseling that will focus on short-term, solution-focused, and culturally sensitive virtual counseling for the students and staff.

“Mental wellness is a key component of every student’s success,” BIE Director Tony Dearman said in a written statement. “We will focus these resources on the unique issues that face our Indigenous students with a clear emphasis on suicide prevention, crisis services and behavioral health through an Indigenous lens.

The programs will also establish a BIE-specific 24/7 crisis hotline, provide on-site crisis support, and the clinical team will primarily be staffed with Indigenous clinicians who have experience working with Indigenous communities.

According to the Department of Interior, virtual and onsite crisis support will be able to provide a comprehensive and systemic approach to assisting individuals or groups with critical incidents or traumatic events.

Through the virtual services provided at the BIE-funded tribal schools, the Department of Interior stated that it would be able to provide the students and staff with a way to overcome challenges such as limited onsite providers, minimal transportation options, long wait times, and limited scheduling options for caregivers.

“We believe this will have a significantly positive impact throughout Indian Country by supporting future leaders, reducing generational trauma and promoting healthier lives,” Dearman said.

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Shondiin Silversmith, AZ Mirror
Shondiin Silversmith, AZ Mirror

Shondiin Silversmith is an award-winning Native journalist based on the Navajo Nation. Silversmith has covered Indigenous communities for more than 10 years, and covers Arizona's 22 federally recognized sovereign tribal nations, as well as national and international Indigenous issues. Her digital, print and audio stories have been published by USA TODAY, The Arizona Republic, Navajo Times, The GroundTruth Project and PRX's "The World." Silversmith earned her master's degree in journalism and mass communication in Boston before moving back to Arizona to continue reporting stories on Indigenous communities. She is a member of the Native American Journalist Association and has made it a priority in her career to advocate, pitch and develop stories surrounding Indigenous communities in the newsrooms she works in.