Once Again . . . Dear Indian Country,

Last week, the Oregon State Hospital, a forensic mental health facility in Salem, Oregon, opened a job position for a “Clinical Pastoral Education Supervisor and Native American Coordinator.” When I first read the description I assumed there was a clerical mistake, this could not be one job, clearly it must be two. Upon further inquiry with hospital staff I learned it was in fact one position.

Disturbing.

I completed my Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) residency at this institution where I worked with both the CPE Supervisor and the Native American Services Coordinator (both of whom are still employed by the hospital, however, the Native American Services Coordinator has now been made ineligible for her own job thanks to this new position. Update: The Native American Services Coordinator was fired from her position at the end of May). These are TWO, very different, high-level, full time professional positions and I am left wondering how the institution administrators missed that.

But, my dismay over the presumption that one person can manage both roles transformed into utter disgust when I read the requirements for the position. The original posting required minimal experience that contradicted the accreditation guidelines of the of the Association for Clinical Pastoral Education (ACPE). It also ignored (and continues to) the fact that to coordinate Native American services a person ought to be familiar with Native American communities, cultures, and faith traditions. I could not sit idly by and allow these gross indignities to both my profession and my people unfold.

So, I did what I do best, I took to words.

I wrote a letter to Oregon State Hospital officials, Oregon tribal leaders, and the ACPE calling for intervention. I asked that the job opening be revoked in an effort to create positions that uphold the dignity of both the chaplaincy education experience and the culture of indigenous people. My letter was forwarded and shared and now, three days later, some changes have been made. And while those changes certainly uphold the integrity of the chaplaincy program at the hospital, they do not ensure the protection of indigenous peoples.

So, I take to words again. This time in a more public forum, in an open letter to my beloved community, because this issue involves all of us. This is about our freedom to self-determine what is best for our own communities as indigenous people.

The job posting now requires all of the proper religious education and experience for supervising chaplain students, however it continues to dismiss the very real need for a Native Coordinator with knowledge of the diverse cultures that position would represent (and let us not forget the hospital already employs a full time, tribally enrolled Native Services Coordinator who holds a doctoral degree in psychology).

The Oregon State Hospital authorities may think their addition of “Desired Attribute: Knowledge of the theology, doctrines, liturgy, scripture, and practices of spiritual/religious Native American ceremonies and traditional healing services” fulfills their obligation to tribal peoples, but it does not. First, this is a “desired attribute” not a “minimum requirement” and second . . . any person knowledgeable about and immersed in traditional Native American culture knows that the words “theology, doctrines, liturgy, and scripture” are not synonymous with traditional Native cultures, spiritualities, or values. And while there are plenty of indigenous Christians in the world, and there is amazing work being done to bridge Christian traditions with Native ones, these words do not coincide with pre-colonial Native peoples.

The only requirement on this job posting that comes close to mentioning cultural knowledge (and let’s face it, it really doesn’t) is “experience working with minority status populations.” Colonizing language aside, work with general minority populations does not guarantee qualification to lead sweat lodge, smudge ceremony, talking circles, or group discussions on historical trauma, reservation and urban Indian communities, or the vast diversity of tribal traditions, spiritualities, or protocols.

Indian Country, what the Oregon State Hospital is attempting to do is a gross injustice to our self-determination, our sovereignty, and our spiritual and cultural lives.

10% of this hospital’s residents are indigenous peoples. The hospital is, in effect, saying to its indigenous residents (and to all indigenous people) that our cultural traditions, spiritualities, and protocols do not matter. That a hospital administration, governed by non-Native people, make the decisions about the spiritual lives of Native people using words like “theology, doctrines, liturgy, and scripture.” I don’t know about you, but that reminds me of boarding school.

I am writing to you because we are the less than 1% who survive(d) colonization. We, as indigenous people, are standing up all over the U.S. and Canada, New Zealand and Australia, Africa, South America, Mexico, and the Pacific Islands. We are standing up globally – together – to advocate for our self-determination, our sovereignty, our most basic human rights. And this story is at my front door.

I need your help. The Indigenous residents of the Oregon State Hospital need your help. The current indigenous employees of the Oregon State Hospital, along with their non-Native allies, need your help.

Tell the Oregon State Hospital they do not determine the spiritual lives of our people. We determine our own. Urge them to eliminate this job opening and start over with two separate positions that both uphold the integrity of spiritual care AND REQUIRE cultural knowledge and competency of indigenous peoples.

On the heels of my ancestors and with deep love and gratitude,

Melissa

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