Interview between Speaker 1 (Meg) and Speaker 2 (Joshuaa Allison-Burbank)
Episode 82: Native
Hey, it’s Meg. I just wanted to check in with you if you haven’t registered for the 2024 Learn Play Thrive Continuing Education Summit, we want you there. Our guest today, Joshua Allison-Burbank is teaching together with AC Goldberg in the Summit on diversity, equity and inclusion. We have talks on disability justice, pathological demand avoidance, sensory processing, interoception, feeding, and so, so, so much more. The panel is incredible. It’s happening on demand in January of 2024. This year, you get credit for each talk you watch; you don’t have to watch them all. It’ll be registered for ASHA and AOTA CEU’s and we’re applying for NASP CEU’s for school psychologists and ASWB CEU’s for social workers as well. It’s really exciting. Check it out at learnplaythrive.com/summit.
Welcome to the Two Sides of the Spectrum Podcast. A place where we explore research, amplify Autistic voices, and change the way we think about autism in life, and in our professional therapy practices. I’m Meg Ferrell, formerly Meg Proctor, from learnplaythrive.com broadcasting to you today from unceded Tsalagi territory.
Before we get started, a quick note on language. On this podcast, you’ll hear me and many of my guests use identity-affirming language. That means we say ‘Autistic person’ rather than ‘person with autism’, because this is the preference of most Autistic adults. Being Autistic is a part of their identity that they don’t need to be separated from. Join us in embracing the word ‘Autistic’ to help reduce the stigma.
Welcome to Episode 82 with Joshuaa Allison-Burbank. This year, like last year, we are recognizing Native American Heritage month with an episode that centers how we can support the well-being of our Native clients. In this episode, we explore Native views on disability from Joshuaa’s experience, cultural responsiveness for therapists who are supporting Autistic people on reservation or off reservation, and ways that non-Native folks can build trust and connection in their relationships with their Native clients. Our guest, Joshuaa Allison-Burbank is Diné and Acoma Pueblo. He is a licensed speech-language pathologist and assistant scientist at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. He teaches therapists and community members how to incorporate anti-racist and decolonization practices into their work. He previously worked at Northern Navajo Medical Center and continues to provide developmental services to Diné families enrolled in the Navajo Nation Early Intervention Program. He does research on community assessment, parent coaching, the stress of neurodevelopment, and preventing developmental delay in American Indian children.
So, as it is Native American Heritage month, before we get started, I want to go a little bit deeper than usual into the land that I’m broadcasting to you on and recognize its original stewards, the Tsalagi people. If land acknowledgments are new to you, they’re one way that we can name that the land we are on was stolen from Native people by colonizers, and land action plans are the steps that we’re taking to support Indigenous communities in the present day. So, this month is a great opportunity to sit down and really learn about the history of the land you’re on and its original stewards. So, the lands that I’m on here and what we call Asheville, North Carolina is occupied Tsalagi land. The Cherokee people were nearly entirely removed from their ancestral lands here in the mountains in 1895 at the beginning of the Trail of Tears. Many fled to the area that we now call Oklahoma and formed their own government and schools in Indian Territory, but those were abolished by the US government when Oklahoma was formed in 1907. Several hundred people in my area now hid during this forced removal and avoided being removed. They eventually bought back a portion of their lands and they now make up the Eastern Band of the Cherokee. So, at Learn Play Thrive, for the last year, we’ve been donating $100 per month to organizations supporting Indigenous autonomy and direct aid. This quarter, we’re focusing on organizations that benefit the Eastern Band of Cherokee, as well as Native people who are currently living in Oklahoma. Thanks so much for listening, and here’s the interview with Joshuaa Allison-Burbank.
Hi, Joshuaa. Welcome to the podcast.
It’s great to be here. Thank you for having me.
I’m so excited to sit down with you. I’ve just been listening to your talk for the Summit, and learnt so much from it. And I’m really excited to share it with folks, and excited to just get to chat with you a little bit more. I want to start with you. Can you tell us a little bit about your work and how your journey went to lead you where you are in your work?
Of course, and I’ll start by introducing myself. So, yá’át’ééh, and that means ‘good morning’ in Diné Bizaad, the language of the Diné, the Navajo. [Joshuaa introducing himself from 05:38 – 05:47]. So, we always start off in the in that way, introducing ourselves and sharing our clan. So, I shared that my mom is the one that’s Navajo and I was — and we’re matrilineal, so a lot of our responsibilities and our clan ties are always back to the maternal side. So, I started off by saying that my mom’s clan is Tl’ogi, which means Zia-Weaver’s clan. And then I said, I’m born into my dad’s clan. He’s from Acoma Pueblo, which is another tribe here in New Mexico. And I said that I’m born into that clan, it’s the Parrot clan that I’m a part of in that tribe. We also introduce our maternal and paternal grandfather’s clan. So, I said that I’m Tó’áhani, which means digging for water, or near the water people. And then, my paternal father’s clan is the Yellow Corn clan from Acoma. And we end it by saying, this is how I identify as Diné and Navajo, and [Word at 06:39]. And so, when we start off these conversations, it’s meant to be about establishing kinship and any ties, but also in doing that, which we’ve been doing for a millennia, is establishing gender identity and kind of who we are and how we identify. And so, that’s always been a practice. So, we’ve always done that as Diné and as Pueblo people. And that’s how I started off today, is by sharing who I am, where I’m from, and the responsibilities we have in making sure we’re connected. So, if there are any Native listeners and Diné listeners there, I greet you with the nice and warm virtual hug and handshake.
So, I’m a speech-language pathologist. I’ve been practicing for eight years now. And my main hat is as a developmental scientist at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. And I work at our Southwest Centre for Indigenous Health hub here in Albuquerque, New Mexico, which is on unceded Tiwa Pueblo lands. And I work both as a speech-language pathologist and as a researcher, and have been primarily focused on COVID response on the Navajo Nation, from the developmental perspective; monitoring, surveying, and tracking the effects of elevated stress and trauma linked to the pandemic and how that is impacting developmental trajectory in young Navajo children. And so, I’m here close to my community. And I do get back to my community quite often, and get to work as an early intervention speech-language pathologist, but also as a researcher, and I work with a lot of parent. And it’s been kind of full circle to return back to home and to be here in this space and to be raising a family and doing kind of cultural routines, but also advancing my career and learning more about how an SLP can fit within community health, within food sovereignty practices, and most importantly, how we can restore the well-being of young Native youth. So, I’m pretty excited to be here and share my journey and the work that I’ve been doing.
Lovely. Thank you so much. Can you talk a little bit about how your identity and ways of thinking as a Native person influences your approach to therapy and how you view disability?
Yeah, this is one of my favorite questions that I get of like, how do you blend everything together? And there’s, I think, a constant clash of how we define evidence from a Western versus this Indigenous perspective and what is truth, what holds weight, what is, how we practice. So, I think what has been helpful for me over the past few years is to be out in the field and working with communities, working with families, and to have these ‘Aha!’ moments of like, here’s what I learned in school. And here’s kind of what it looks like in these communities. Or here’s how a Navajo or Pueblo perspective aligns with this type of learning theory or this type of explanation for what’s out there. So, I feel like I went off to SLP school and went into my PhD program and got all this, bombard with Western thought, Western ideologies and ways of thinking, especially from this developmental perspective of here’s what a disability looks like, and here’s how we assess it, and here’s how we treat it. And that’s been — that’s been my life dream, was to become a speech-language pathologist and to go off to work with young children with developmental disabilities. And I love it; I really do love being an SLP. And that’s, I’ve accomplished that goal.
And it’s been kind of full circle, again, to be in these therapeutic spaces where I’m working with the family, or I’m working on training new clinicians in the field, where I’ve been able to fall back not just on my Western training, but also to explain some of these things from this Indigenous perspective. And I think about how all these ways of thinking often compete, and it’s because there are just as much evidence from an Indigenous perspective that can really be in place of these Western ways of doing things. But very often, I’m seeing more of a braid of blending of these two different ways of thinking and seeing how they can complement one another. In some cases, it’s having more of a Western approach when I’m working with families, but also very often there are times when that Indigenous approach is the most appropriate way for working with different families. So, I speak on what are the experiences that I’ve had, and experiences I’ve had directly with, with Navajo and Pueblo families. And I can’t speak for all Indigenous people. But I can say for sure that there’s much diversity and there’s much fluidity in the families that I’ve worked with when it comes to perspectives on disability.
So, I think that’s such an important piece for remembering when we’re thinking about underserved communities or communities that have been siloed. Because this siloing, this grouping, is a very colonial approach and perspective that Black children do this, Asian children do this, Native people do this. And that doesn’t work when we are already quite diverse and quite intersectional already as a people. I mean, that’s the first thing we do is introduce ourselves to show how diverse we are and how we identify; very different from these individualized and competitive cultures in which most of America and most of the Western cultures are like. And so, I think that’s such an important piece for us to start this conversation, is that Native communities are quite diverse. And there’s many different beliefs on what is considered, quote, ‘typical’ or ‘average’ or ‘the norm’. And those words aren’t easily translated into most Indigenous languages, like these concepts of comparing between normal and abnormal, it’s very English, very kind of Romance language-focused in where you have an opposite. But in Indigenous cultures, we have kind of a spectrum of how to refer to gender, how to refer to ability, how to refer to how we express love. And I think that’s, there’s beauty when we look at Indigenous languages as well, and the way that we explain a child’s growth and development, but even how we explain attachment to a young child, and how we explain things like how to support a child through challenging situations. And so, that piece is such an important component when we’re thinking about culturally responsive care for Native children. And how do we explain and teach this alternative or this Indigenous view of ability.
And so, I will say that Native people have always welcomed and always embraced Native children with disabilities. And it’s actually becoming more apparent that our disabled relatives and children and adults born with different neurodiversities that they once and have always played an important role in our societies and our communities. They’ve played a role in being mediators and being the ones that have a higher connection to spirits and to the spirit world, and to different parts of the universe. And so, I think that’s a real humbling experience that I’ve had in making these connections, is that here’s what we think about when we say autism spectrum disorder and how to treat it. Well, coming from my background, we see not a disability, not a characteristic, we see this individual as being unique, and being intersectional, and having some very unique communication styles. And that it’s that way for a reason.
So, in my journey as a speech-language pathologist, especially in early intervention, has been to first gauge where communities are at when it comes to assimilation and acculturation and what people believe. Because, again, it’s not the same for all Native families. Not everyone grows up from this kind of traditional lens due to colonization. And so, that’s where I start. Where are families at? What are they open to? How do they believe? And what is their take and response to these diagnoses and these interventions that we throw at families? And that’s really where I gauge what the interaction is going to look like over time, and how families are going to see whether they need to correct or modify or change the way these young children are exhibiting their communication styles and their personalities. And so, that’s a constant in a part of that evaluation process, is looking at how families feel in regards to acculturation. How much do they want their child to participate in different cultures and different communities, and that’s really where this responsiveness starts, too.
Because sometimes, families want the interventions that are proven and are evidence-based from the Western lens. And we can go and start that. Sometimes families may be prioritizing more on connection, that my child is going to get all their needs met, whether they have a disability or not, and our family is always going to provide for them. That’s the Native of way; that’s the Navajo and Pueblo way. So, how do we support and improve some of those connections or strengthen what they have? So, I really like to think about not just having different — or I should take a step back, it’s not about having a certain response to a disability or a new diagnosis, it’s more on looking at what the individual’s personality and their communication styles are like, and how can we help them to strengthen the connections that they already have. So, this Indigenous connectedness framework, this way of thinking, is becoming more and more common as a way to approach health and wellness and interventions, and making interventions more precise to needs of Native communities rather than this deficit-focused approach of investing in ways to improve diagnoses, and try to identify early, and try to intervene with the interventions that we know work.
So, that’s where I come from when I get asked this question, is how can I encourage people to be looking more at how the individual, whether they have a disability or not, how do they connect to their space around them — the land, the people, their community — and then what might get in the way, or what may be a barrier or an obstacle that they have to work through to get to those connections. And I think that’s such a powerful way to think about how to improve the lives of young Native children with developmental disabilities, is not about treating and not about trying to fix, but more how do you foster or rekindle these important connections that are vital to their survival but also for having a good quality of life, but most important for the survival of their culture, their language, and their ways of knowing?
That’s such a helpful shift. And a big shift, really, from coming and saying, “Here’s your diagnosis, here’s the deficits, here’s the developmental milestone, here’s how we’re going to get there.” I really appreciate you tying this in to the process of cultural responsiveness. Because often, we don’t know what we don’t know. We don’t know what biases we’re bringing in; we don’t know in what ways we are off target with a family’s experience, with their cultural practices, with their deepest needs. So, that was really helpful in thinking about supporting Native families. I want to talk a little bit more about cultural responsiveness, sustainability, sort of top-to-bottom and bottom-to-top. Can you help us dive deeper into that?
Yeah, for sure. I think with more Native clinicians entering the field and more folks rising up in the ranks when it comes to academic and research spaces, and we’re able to share just what I’ve shared, these ways of knowing, these ways of practicing that aren’t new. These are things we do every day. And that’s, I think, such an important piece for when we talk about cultural competency. And I think this is where our field struggles a lot, is that you can’t learn how to do this from one workshop. And you can’t learn this from going to one conference or from seeing you’re decolonizing your bookshelf or decolonizing your speech therapy room. Like that’s more performative, I think, than actually trying to shift the way we think can believe. Because, and then what if we’re doing that, are we still pulling children out of their natural spaces and their most enriched learning spaces, and we’re pulling them into our areas where we see and provide kind of restricted and highly structured activities that often don’t generalize.
So, that’s what I really want our clinicians to be thinking about, is when we say we’re being culturally responsive, or we’re practicing culturally competent care, when we actually ask ourselves this and we’re not changing the way we’re prac — the way we’re doing work and the way we’re working with children and adults with developmental disabilities. And we’re not really being responsive. And we’re really more contributing to more of that deficit focus. So, I think that’s such an important piece. And this is coming from not as an SLP, but as a member of a tribal community, born and raised in a tribal community, and now working 100% with my own community now as well, that we can tell when change isn’t happening. And we can tell when there’s no very or minimal effort, and to how to provide culturally responsive care. And I think that is such a, again, a critical piece when we’re trying to bridge connections, improve allyship and try to improve the way we provide care is that when we don’t have an established connection with the communities that we’re working with, and when we don’t have the ability to work towards improving these systems, or improve the way we provide interventions, like that becomes such an important factor in the way we’re trying to shift the way we provide services.
So, where to start? How do we do this? And does this require this top-up and this top-down type of approach of how to change the way we see disability, or how we see assessment and intervention services? Like, how do we address all those different systems? And we’re still struggling, we’re still focused on this medical model and I see it happen in schools and medical settings and therapeutic spaces. And it’s needed, for sure. There are some obvious kind of acute and very specific type of medical interventions that have to happen a certain way. But I’m thinking about how can we kind of braid these different ways of delivering services with not just our Western training, but this true Indigenous perspective. And so, I really, I really think about that process, how that requires some rewiring, or some unlearning and relearning of how to engage with diverse populations. Because there’s still a big gap. And I see that in IEP meetings, and medical meetings, grand rounds of clinician, provider, teacher, and then families, and then the child in there somewhere, the person with a disability somewhere in the middle. And there’s a big gap there. When we are trying to provide kind of interdisciplinary care, family-centered care, but there’s still that gap, how do we how do we bridge that? How do we get rid of that gap to make sure it’s truly interactive?
Well, that requires change at the way we define therapy services, the way we train our clinicians, the way we provide clinical experiences and the way we teach. The other, and it also requires this clinician to be in tune with their community needs, how to improve systems in their community. So, it starts, really, from institutions and training programs and thinking about graduate SLP training programs and faculty. And at that level, we’re not quite diverse. We’re still struggling with diversity in our field. And I think that goes across many therapeutic science programs and academic programs, is that we, the lack of that diversity there means that there’s no one there advocating for the needs of their community. And that makes a big difference. And we’ve been talking about that in the maternal and child health field for decades that if no one, if the communities, the leadership levels, and graduate programs don’t represent the communities that they’re serving, then the needs and the voice of those communities aren’t going to be heard until that changes.
Well, in order to have organizational or department reorganization or big changes to departments, that requires some effort. That requires stepping away from these positions to allow someone else to be in those spaces, or making opportunities for individuals who are maybe first-time college graduates or leaving their community for the first time to step into these oppressive and racist institutions and have to carry that weight, but also develop and foster their leadership skills as well as those opportunities. So, it’s about equity, I think, when it comes to trying to address the way organizations and training programs operate. And it’s also about humility, and being open to changing the way we think and the way we operate. And then, also, establishing pipelines and opportunities for the underrepresented to actually be represented in those spaces. And that requires work. Diversity, equity, inclusion, justice work gets talked all the time, about how to do it, and how to work towards it, but the act of actually changing an organization or department to do that take some time. It’s slow at times.
But I’m thinking about the clinician. Us, those of us that are out there working now. Where can we go? What can we do to change and to provide this truly responsive approach to the needs of our people? And I think it really is coming back to ourselves and re-evaluating ourselves, and looking at who am I as a clinician? How do I operate? What is my go-to response when I hear ‘autism’, or when I hear ‘developmental delay’, or ‘swallowing disorder’? Like, what happens in that brain. Does your clinician turn on, where your goal is to assess, treat and send them off? Like, that process, that clinical problem-solving process. What happens between the time you get that message or you get that referral to the time you start intervening with this family? What are you doing to provide the best service that’s immediately needed? But also, what are you doing to provide a highly high quality, culturally responsive interaction with that individual where they feel safe, they feel represented, and they’re able to share about how much their disability or their level of support is impacting their ability to connect? That’s the goal.
And I feel like that’s, we’ve tapped into that a bit with activities of daily living assessments that look at adaptive behaviors, social impact scales, and we’re getting better at that. But unless you have that connection and that person trusts you, they feel like it’s safe and they’re able to share, here’s how I feel this diagnosis is going to impact myself as a parent. And this is how I feel they’re going to impact my child in the future. And we can provide different case scenarios across the lifespan as well, but we don’t we don’t get trained to ask questions that way. We don’t think that way. Our goal is about diagnosis, disability, and level of impact, and then coming up with this kind of, diving into this kind of recipe box of how to treat, and intervention, how to treat a disability. And so, I think, like, that process is useful, and it’s a good clinical training. But what else can we be doing to enrich the services that we’re providing to individuals?
And then, in order to make it sustainable, and that requires all different levels engaging in this way to really be not so much responsive to culture, but just open to hearing the true needs of individuals, to be active listeners, to take time to actually think about not just how is this deficit getting in the way of their everyday needs, but how is this deficit get in the way of this individual’s ability to flourish, to thrive, to be happy, to move forward, to break intergenerational cycles of trauma. And to really think that way, more of that strengths-based, long-term quality of life and well-being. And so, I think that is my message to my clinicians, to our community, is how are we focusing, how can we focus on the well-being of the people that we’re serving? And not just the communication and not just the ability to eat, but their overall well-being. How can we support that and make it better for the individual?
I think the lovely thing about that is our work feels so much more fulfilling and so much more meaningful when we tie in to those bigger goals of authentic connection and meaning, rather than just developmental milestone or overcoming, you know, deficits based on the medical model. I really appreciate you giving us the zoomed-out lens on that from our training programs and professional organizations, because we do have listeners working at that level who can impact change, and then zooming in to the provider on the ground. When I’m listening to you, it sounds like we have a lot of opportunity in our paperwork to look at what information we’re getting from it, and what information we’re giving in it, and also our initial interview or meeting with parents, families, or clients themselves. I’m wondering if there’s any other advice that you’d give to folks who are working in communities that they’re not from, and how they can learn from those and learn together with people around their lived experiences.
Yeah, I’m happy to give some insight on that. When you’re working with the new community, and you’re trying to build a relationship, and you’re working towards being a culturally competent, culturally responsive provider, my big kind of way of rating your success or your progress in being that individual is if you’re able to step into the community you’re serving. And do people know you, do they recognize you? Do they greet you in their Native language? Do they greet you in a way that’s welcoming? Are they open in sharing their clans and telling you a bit about who they are? I tell the same thing to researchers as well when they say they’re practicing community-based participatory research or they’re practicing community-engaged work. You can put that in your papers, you can put that on your department values and all these things and say you’re doing that, and establish mission statements and you’re going to work towards that, unless you’re actually spending time getting to know the people, listening to how they communicate, looking at these communication norms, not just in these structured, sterile Western spaces. And I’m thinking about schools, I’m thinking about grocery stores, and these places that are public where people, especially Indigenous people, well, put on a certain type of response and communication style to navigate and be successful in those spaces.
But I can say for sure that most Indigenous people will code switch and return back to their community, their cultural ways of interacting and behaving and talking. And I just had a visitor come by recently, and we were talking about rizz talk, about being rizz, what it means to be rizz. And we, in academics and these higher learning spaces, we often change the way we talk, we change the way we represent and present ourselves. It’s more formal; we put on the show to show that we can be successful in those spaces. But when we go home, we’re able to code switch back to these behaviors and these styles that we’ve grown up with that we’ve always done. And the multicultural clinician is they do that automatically, they code switch. But for people that aren’t from that community, it’s possible to still learn these things and be able to change the way they interact, to be able to change how they talk, how they intervene, and to, again, break down that gap in privilege and break down that gap in power as well.
And so, I would say to those listeners out there who are working towards improving the connections with the communities that they serve to spend time out in these communities, go to ceremonies, go to events that are open to the public. Find that cultural broker, find that individual that’s willing to teach or to share, but don’t go into that just wanting to take over or going into those spaces wanting to absorb and to go in without being reciprocal. Like, that’s such an important piece in Indigenous communities is reciprocity, is when you are going into these spaces or you’re committing to serving the community, you’re providing a much-needed service as well. But you’re also going to be asking a lot of these communities to share personal information. It’s culturally important practices. And I feel like that takes a lot of establishing of trust due to the history of historical traumas, and a lot of mistrust with government entities and with non-Native people. There’s just been a lot of negative and bad things that have happened to Native people. We’ve been constantly trying to fight for our, maintaining our tribal sovereignty, our ways of life, and trying to restore these child rearing practices that don’t often fit into these American practices of work from eight-to-five, and then return home. A lot of our child rearing practices are very different and don’t line with those types of models. And so, what we have to do is go out and learn some of these things and observe and be open to changing how we might do our work.
I would love to see Native children who are receiving speech and other developmental therapy services to be able to be in their most thriving spaces. And very often, that’s in their home or in their community or outdoors as well. And that’s been my approach in training more clinicians and the work that I do in tribal home visiting as well, is thinking about how we can embed these cultural and home routines more into our therapy spaces. And in order to do that, though, there has to be trust, you have to know what those norms are, you need to know what these routines are. And also, there has to be flexibility, again, and how we might operate because those one-hour therapy sessions a week aren’t gonna go too far in the Native community when there’s all these different competing demands and responsibilities as well. So, what can we be doing to help families and communities to understand that what we do and what we have to offer as clinicians can be done within their everyday contexts, these everyday contexts? And so, I think that is really my major advice to anyone that is coming from a new community or someone that’s trying to establish or trying to learn how to work with an Indigenous community, is you may not feel welcome at first because most of us are likely going to be vetting and seeing how long is this person going to stay. Because we see do that very often in public schools and healthcare settings, we see non-Native people come to satisfy certain responsibilities, loan forgiveness or teaching requirements, but they don’t always stay.
So, in order to establish trust, we have to have someone that commits to being there, someone that is committed to saying that I’m not just here to satisfy this five-year NIH grant. But here’s my plan on how, or here’s my — to know that these individuals have a plan for sustainability, that they’re not going to just take what they need, and then leave and never return. And most Native people, especially in reservation communities are going to be very cognizant and very kind of focused on that as well, is who is this individual? What are they trying to do? And have they, of course, done all the right things and establishing the connection and doing things responsibly, but are they going to stay, are going to be here next year? Because when you have had a speech, a child receiving speech therapy, or they have an IEP, and you’ve seen constant turnover and the SLP only stays a certain amount of time, then it’s hard to feel and trust that discipline or to understand that this process is meant to be an opportunity to build a relationship and to support this individual over time. It’s hard to see that from the parent and from the patient side when there’s constant change and turnover. So, it’s just many different obstacles, I think, that we have to navigate and think about when it comes to establishing trust with the community.
Thank you so much for that insight into what it could mean and look like for us to really establish trust, really show that we’re deeply interested and willing to commit the time to learn about and learn together with a community. You mentioned that sometimes we have superficial, like, stated beliefs and values that don’t always align with our practices. Can you talk a little bit about land acknowledgments? What the benefit, what the limitation is, should we be doing them, should we be doing something more?
Yeah, this effort to acknowledge the people and their original inhabitants and stewards is important, because that first stops us in our everyday interactions and everyday settings to take a moment to reflect on who are the original people that used to be in the space that I’m inhabiting. And there’s value there for sure. There has to be — that’s only a one small chip at this larger mountain that we’re trying to work up and get over when we’re thinking about true justice and equity work and with Native communities. Land acknowledgments and these practices of spending time relearning where you’re at and acknowledging these individuals is a start. It’s a good start. And I see them in email signatures, and I see them in all these different spaces and academics. But I don’t see him anywhere else. I don’t see people taking time to actively practice this land acknowledgement, this land reparation, this land returning. And I think that also goes back to the cultural competency piece, too. We see people take the workshops, I see the clinicians that say it every year at ASHA, “I’m here to be respectful. I’m here to listen and learn.” But like, what else are you doing to actually build that connection with the community? How are you shifting, again, this approach that’s mostly medical-focused and deficits-focused to more of the strengths-based, truly parent-centered approach, family-centered approach.
So, I want to say like there’s always more to do when we’re doing DEI work. And this is a start, and I think it’s important for people that have never heard what it means to have a land acknowledgement or to acknowledge the space where you’re at. And I’m grateful that ASHA and other academic or professional organizations are starting to do this work and to bring in that perspective. And for the longest time, for years and decades that Native people have not been represented, and other kind of marginalized groups as well, have always been limited in what they can say, how they can express themselves. And I’m hoping that this is just momentum, that we are continuing to think about what else can we be doing. And it can be small steps, as long as we’re moving forward. When we do that land acknowledgement, what else can we be doing to explore research? Like, where is this community now, have they been relocated to a completely different area? What are they doing now? If we do a land acknowledgement now, I can — we can say, like, “Here in Albuquerque, New Mexico, it’s unceded Tiwa Pueblo lands. But we’re also in close vicinity to the Pueblos of Santa Ana, Isleta, Sandia, the Navajo Nation.” So, there’s always more we can be doing to say, although colonization has impacted the presence or where these people were at, where are they now? And what how can we best serve them? And what can we be doing to foster that reconnection to the space or those ways of thinking, those ways of believing? So, I think it’s when we, when I look to the East Coast where first contact happened, and many of those tribes there have either been completely destroyed, or erased, or forced to relocate to different areas, when we do land acknowledgments today and we’re talking about people that may not be living there, or may be small in numbers, what can we be doing to correct or to work towards reconciliation and work towards better supporting that community? And also, what behaviors and what practices am I doing are contributing to that may be part of that genocide, or that historical trauma that that people have experienced?
And so, my goal is not for us to go in and refer to ourselves as colonizers or as settlers. I would never tell my colleagues or anyone, really, to that, because that’s not the Navajo and Pueblo way. In addition, I would not say you have to go and be hypervigilant of everything that you’re saying or doing to always try to make things correct, because that’s exhausting, that’s for sure exhausting. But when we’re talking about Indigenous people, what are we seeing, or what have we missed in the past that were opportunities for changing and for relearning or for advocating? And I think about therapy materials in our field that are promote certain stereotypes and commit certain microaggressions. I think about the way we often overlook opportunities for talking about Indigenous peoples during our biggest conference time, which is next month, which is during Native American Heritage month. And I think about also the many, many voices that are — and there’s more, there’s more of us now. I think we’re between 300 to 400 audiologists and SLP’s within ASHA who identify as being American Indian, or Alaskan Native, or Indigenous. And so, like, what else can we be doing to bring in those voices and those perspectives? I’m Navajo and Acoma Pueblo, and I was born and raised here. What I know is here. I don’t know much about the experience of the Pacific Northwest. I don’t know much about First Nation, Canada, I don’t know much about the Aboriginal; I don’t know about these different Indigenous communities as well. We’ve all been impacted by colonization in different ways.
So, I think, where we start and how we think about this process, it really is with those land acknowledgments. And it’s a start. And the goal, again, is to get you thinking what more could I be doing? And what is my responsibility, but also what’s the responsibility of the organization that’s doing these land acknowledgments? Because very often, that’s these large institutions. It’s these organizations like ASHA or AOTA, these individuals that have the ability to advocate and change and improve the lives of lots of communities. So, I think about what our profession is called on to do, who are speech-language pathologists. I’m a speech-language pathologist, and we have a goal of helping individuals, people to communicate their needs, their basic needs and wants. But I also feel like we have a responsibility to help communities as well, to communicate and express their needs as well. So, we’re communication experts, and that goes beyond just individual and families, but also to communities, to groups of people, and to populations that have almost been erased. How do we help them to communicate?
Thank you so much for broadening that out, you know, if we start thinking, “Oh, I should be curious about the original stewards of this land that I’m on and acknowledge them,” and then broadening that out to what’s the story of where people now, what can I do, what am I doing, what do my therapy materials look like? I really appreciate this call to do it and to broaden it. One thing I asked on the podcast last year to Jules Edwards, and I want to ask again to you this year, is it’s about to be November. It’s October when we’re recording. A lot of therapists, especially in the schools, are going to start doing Thanksgiving-related craft activities in the US. We’ll see lots of turkeys and things like that. What advice do you have to these therapists to do this in a culturally respectful way?
Now this is an important opportunity for me to — as a Native person, not as an SLP, not as a researcher, but as a Native person to share that American history has been taught wrong for forever. What we see in the social studies books, the history books, is inaccurate. We see it from the way the colonized institution, the colonized community, the colonizers, the way they want us to see it. So, we see positive interactions between the early settlers and their pilgrims that came, and we see cooperation, we see this Thanksgiving, coming together to have a meal. And maybe that’s accurate. Maybe that’s right in that, for some brief amount of time. What we saw there in first contact, and even before that, with Christopher Columbus, with the conquistadores here in the Southwest, the rivals of the Vikings. And this goes on. Because when we’re talking about colonization and first contact with Indigenous people across the globe, what we see though is arrival of a majority culture that is exploitive. That they are seeking out land seeking out space to take over, to claim as theirs. From that start, from those first interactions, even before that, there’s a group of people that has the ability to go and travel and take over a space. So, it’s such an important piece for us to think about, is like when you are a peaceful people, when you have had a civilization going for thousands of years, and you have been successful at astronomy, at math and science, and growing food.
And I think about here in the Southwest, the Chaco people, the people of Bears Ears, and Mesa Verde; all these areas that have been inhabited since forever, for a long time. And that’s from our old oral traditions, that when these ways of thinking that were foreign, when we talk about the beliefs and practices of the people that wore metal helmets, Spanish conquistadores, the people that came that wore the long brown robes and had the funny haircuts, the Franciscans, these people that came and brought these different ways of knowing and thinking. But in those ways, they were very different from the way we believe, the way we interacted as a people. And we were told early on that our ways were wrong. And the way we did stuff was wrong. But also, we know from public health researchers — so, I read up a lot on this, too — what came with the early settlers as well, this violent behavior, this aggressiveness, disease, infectious diseases, and these ways that were unhealthier, these ways that were focused on binary systems and these power dynamics that were just in complete opposite of the way we believe and operate as Native people. And so, I think that’s an important piece for the educator or the clinician to spend some time. Like, what do I know about this Thanksgiving time? What have I learned, what have I seen? If you Google Thanksgiving, or you look on YouTube, or you pull up Teachers Pay Teachers, you’re gonna see a majority of these interactions that show that cooperation of the stereotypical Indian with the feather on their head and the pilgrim with the black hat. And these come, they come together and they get along well.
Well, that, again, wasn’t always the case. Any of us, including here in the Southwest, our tribes fought back against these people. We were successful early on in pushing back against these invaders and these colonizers, and we worked as hard as we could, but they kept coming in numbers, and they overwhelmed us and eventually took over and colonized us. So, that’s an important piece. Like, when we think about war, across the world, when we have a majority culture, a stronger group of people, and they come in and they take over with those same thoughts that your ways are wrong, your ways are inappropriate, and we want to change you, we want to absorb you into who we are, we want to take over, we’re seeking out your land. This process of colonization and first contact is not new. And I don’t have to tell the listeners here that what’s happening in our world right now, it’s a continued cycle. And history always repeats itself. And that’s coming from this Indigenous practice that those who seek to exploit and those that seek to take over, their history will always repeat. They’ll always come back to needing to seek out and exploit lands and people, and that’s just, it’s power hungry. It’s this need to be better, to be stronger, to outperform one another. And so, I think a better way to think about this time is from what Indigenous people are doing now. They’re in this change in the calendar year. We just had our recent full moon for the fall, and so it’s Navajo New Year for us. So, for now, it’s a time of new beginning. We are harvesters, our harvesting is done. Our farms are closing out. And we’ve prepared enough food. And now, we shift into hunting season and getting ready for traditional activities during the wintertime as well.
So, I think it’s important to see what communities are joining, and to spend some time in learning about how we can restore connections, rather than try to celebrate a story or a fantasy that America has been putting out there for a long time. And I can say for sure that these gatherings and these things that we see on Thanksgiving of the Native person and non-Native person coming together isn’t always the case. And we see up in the Northern Plains communities, that have been long impacted by government, and government sponsored, and organized genocide and state level genocide and efforts as well, too, where you may not be as welcomed as a non-Native person. And that’s okay, that’s their land. This is their people. That’s who they should be. Same like here in the Southwest. Certain communities reclaiming and taking back their original names, getting rid of these Catholic names and getting rid of these English and Spanish names, and reclaiming who they are. At Acoma, we refer to that space as Haak’u. And we refer to ourselves Haak’umeh, Acoma people, the original people of the rocks. And we have oral traditions that go back to 800 and 900 AD, and with ties to Chaco Canyon and ties to Mesa Verde. And every Pueblo has these ties. San Juan Pueblo is now Ohkay Owingeh, Santo Domingo Pueblo; here in New Mexico, is now Kewa. So, we’re reclaiming; we’re getting back to these spaces. And that’s what we should be telling, what we should be highlighting.
And I would also encourage that our clinicians that are wanting to do these activities during this time is to reach out to the Native American Caucus. Most of us are always willing to share, to help facilitate a conversation and think about how you can provide this true perspective of Native people. And not to just celebrate the week of Thanksgiving, but to think about how you can do that across the entire Native American Heritage month. But also, how you can do this kind of throughout the year of how we can acknowledge Indigenous people, the seasons of different ways of life that Native people have always been celebrating as well. And now, there’s many resources out there on avoiding stereotyping, avoiding microaggressions, and really trying to provide anti-racist and anti-oppressive approaches to facilitating these holiday-themed therapeutic spaces. I’d encourage you to go out explore those more. But if it feels like you are reinforcing a stereotype, or you’re providing a perspective of the story that’s not yours, then why tell it? Bring in other people in to come in and share and tell.
And I would encourage everyone to spend some time actually thinking about how to celebrate Native American Heritage month and this very special time as Native communities hunker down for the winter, and do what we’ve always done, which is be with our families, be in ceremony, and focus on how we can plan for that second generation, the people coming ahead. How do we make ourselves better now so it’s easier or it’s more nurturing and more loving world for that second generation that’s coming down the road? That’s such an important teaching for us. What are we doing now to make sure not that our children are okay, but also their children’s children’s children is okay. And that’s part of Indigenous values and practices when it comes to land stewardship, and when it comes to just being a good human. So, that’s my advice for the upcoming holiday, and it is the time of thanksgiving, thanksgiving and gratitude for a successful harvest and for all the great things we see around this time. So, focus on that rather than this misrepresentation of early contact.
Thank you so much, Joshuaa. That’s such an opportunity for all of us. Is there any point you want to bring us back to from our conversation today or any other key shifts you’d like to see from providers who are supporting Autistic people?
Yeah. I would remind the community that Autistic people, individuals, have always been welcomed and embraced in Indigenous communities. Here on the Navajo Nation and within the Pueblos, these individuals have played in important ceremonial roles, have taken over and been part of important spaces that are not just ceremonial, but often leadership roles. And there’s been everyday members of the community as well. We have always welcomed neurodiverse individuals and I see that in these traditional teachings around the rainbow and the mosaic and all these things that we use today to represent intersectionality. And in Navajo culture, we talk about walking this rainbow path, being the intersectional living space where we move and the way we behave and who we interact with and how we establish connections and relationships, it’s not one way, not one rigid way. And it’s not just linear. When we think about the mosaic of the rainbow, we think about these different colors, these different experiences. But along those ways, there’s still harmony and balance, and you’re working towards moving along this rainbow path.
And so, I think that’s such a critical thing for us to realize is that this concept of intersectionality has always been a part of Indigenous ways of knowing and believing. That includes gender, that includes ability, that includes the way we communicate. And then, when we think that way, and we have and return to those Indigenous ways of knowing and believing and when it comes to ability, we don’t see deficits, we don’t see abnormal or atypical, we see individuals who are on this very fluid and very intersectional rainbow path. And so, if we can return to some of these ways, and maybe our profession or organization can look to the way we see intersectionality when it comes to ability, then maybe we can change a lot. And we can see that Autistic individuals, Autistic people, are important and are members of our community and will always be a member of our community.
That’s lovely. Thank you so much, Joshua. Tell us what you’re working on now and where we can find you and your work online.
Yeah, of course. So, my full-time job is at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. You can find me here, again, on unceded Tiwa lands, the Centre for Indigenous Health. We have a really great website with all our junior and our senior researchers, many of us are Indigenous and working in all our different areas. Right now, I’m focused on early identification and prevention of developmental delay in Navajo children. And I’m using a community health worker model and using tribal home visiting programs to train them, and all the knowledge we have as SLPs, to deliver into their communities and their language and their ways. And we’re seeing some very promising results of this type of approach to meet the needs of Native communities that have been historically underserved. You can find me within the Native American Caucus, if you search Native American Caucus within the American Speech and Hearing Association, you’ll likely come up with my name and other members who are part of this leadership caucus. You can find me on social media. I’m on Instagram, @ndnslp, like, actual, in letters, ‘N-D-N’ and ‘SLP’. And I post a lot there on my work that I’m doing, the work that I’m doing out on my farm, as well as strategies for decolonizing therapeutic spaces, and especially when it comes to speech and language therapy and early childhood. And I will be at ASHA this year, I’m doing a master course on culturally responsive early literacy instruction. And I’m very active within several state organizations such as Oregon, Arizona, and New Mexico, and provide a lot of technical assistance to graduate training programs, to professional organizations and private practices now to who are working towards culturally responsive teaching and improving their cultural responsiveness. So, please reach out. I believe my contact information will be connected to this podcast in some way. And I’m always open to emails, or scheduling of a virtual session, or if you’re in the area here in Albuquerque, New Mexico, I’m always happy to meet up.
We will link to all of your work and ways to contact you in the show notes. And if people want to hear Joshuaa speak with AC Goldberg on culturally responsive practices at the Continuing Education Neurodiversity Summit coming up with Learn Play Thrive in January, you can still register for that at learnplaythrive.com/summit. Thank you so much, Joshua.
Yeah, it’s been a pleasure. Hágoónee’, which means ‘See you later’ in Navajo.
See you later.
Thanks for listening to the Two Sides of the Spectrum podcast. Visit learnplaythrive.com/podcast for show notes, a transcript of the episode, and more. And if you learned something today, please share the episode with a friend or post it on your social media pages. Join me next time, where we will keep diving deep into autism.