“I need to train my staff so we can overcome the effects of trauma, not perpetuate it,” says Blacksnake, who is acting director of the Seneca Arts & Learning Center, which comprises the Nation’s early childhood education, language, and education departments.
A former school counselor, Blacksnake is working on an ambitious and expansive multi-year plan to boost well-being among Seneca families. Intergenerational trauma will be taken into account in all programs at the Seneca Arts & Learning Center, she says, starting with infants in the early childhood learning center.
In her vision, there would also be daily language training for existing preschool teachers and staff to create a strong connection to Seneca language and culture. Professional development programs would create a pipeline of new early childhood teachers. Clubs and other learning opportunities would interest children in careers from an early age. And health fairs, fitness events, and educational workshops would promote health, wellness and parenting skills among families.
Along similar lines, the Nation’s Seneca Strong program, launched in 2014 to address drug and alcohol abuse, emphasizes healing and forgiveness rather than punitive measures, says director Dawn Colburn.
“Our culture is our biggest strength, and we’re trying to bring that back, including ways of healing ourselves,” Colburn says.
Seneca Strong capitalizes on those who know the community—and the struggles of addiction—best by using a peer outreach and recovery support model that sends guides who are themselves in recovery to the homes of people struggling with addiction.
Since the program started a year ago, Colburn says, guides have reached out to about 300 people. One third have gone to in-patient treatment, and half have used some kind of treatment or services, including counseling, AA meetings, employment support, and cultural programming such as sweat lodges and talking circles. Seneca Strong also incorporates prevention and sobriety programming into traditional rites of passage, outdoor skills camps, and powwows.
Relationships with local police departments aim to channel more Seneca members who struggle with drugs and alcohol into recovery services, rather than county jail, where they are overrepresented. And the Seneca Nation’s judicial branch has plans to start a program that will link drug offenders to a comprehensive set of services coordinated by social workers.
Showing compassion is at the heart of the approach, Colburn says. “It’s not tough love. It’s all just straight up love.”