“I Want to Help My People”: Tribal Nations in Oklahoma Focus on Mental Health Treatment

December 09, 2022

News Type:  Weekly Spark, Weekly Spark News


Tribal nations in eastern Oklahoma are integrating mental health supports with their criminal justice systems. For example, the Choctaw Nation has trained its tribal police in how to respond to those experiencing a mental health crisis. The Cherokee Nation’s outpatient mental health unit is working closely with Cherokee Nation Marshals to help connect people in need with care. Some nations are also operating Tribal Healing to Wellness Courts, a rehabilitative alternative to incarceration for those with substance use or mental health issues. In addition to connecting people with mental health and social supports, wellness courts are culturally responsive, incorporating tribal traditions and practices. According to Choctaw Nation Mental Health Liaison Bryan Rowley, law enforcement officers may be limited in how much support they can offer those in distress. “Having a liaison position like this is a great step toward helping people be able to get the help they need,” said Rowley, who assists officers in responding to mental health calls. “The [position] is evolving still, but luckily there are examples from across the United States and other Tribal Nations that can point us in good directions to see what helps us and our people the most.”

Spark Extra! Watch Indigenous perspectives on suicide prevention.