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Q&A: ‘Being an Ally in Indian Country’ training comes to Big Cypress

A two-day training on the Big Cypress Reservation in July will explore the subject of “Being an Ally in Indian Country.” The training is hosted by staff from the Center for Behavioral Health Department (CBH) and the Native Connections program. It will be facilitated by the nonprofit Native Wellness Institute.

The Tribune asked Erin Kashem, a community programs administrator at CBH, and Shamecca Dean, the Native Connections program manager, about the training and what to expect. Answers have been edited for length and clarity.

Tribune: For those who don’t know, what does Native Connections do?

Dean: Native Connections is a grant program under CBH. The goal is to create and provide a variety of services and support that work together to reduce the impact of mental and substance use disorders and trauma, and to prevent suicide among Native American youth and young adults.

Kashem: Our Native Connections staff work together with an advisory board in Big Cypress consisting of community members interested in promoting healing and resiliency in their community. Earlier on in the life of the Native Connections grant, the advisory board developed vision and mission statements* that guide the work we do.

Tribune:How did the idea for the training come about?

The training will be facilitated by the nonprofit Native Wellness Institute. (Image via Facebook)

Kashem: The training was recommended by the advisory board, as several board members noted that many staff have not had previous work experience within tribal communities. Advisory board members noted the importance of staff understanding historical and intergenerational trauma and the ways that can show up in interactions with tribal members, as well as the importance of tribal services being delivered from a trauma-informed perspective.

We first offered the training virtually in March 2021 and had participation from several departments tribalwide. We had approximately 150 individuals attend. We received a lot of good feedback related to the training, and some who participated expressed interest in having the training again when it could be done in-person.

Tribune: Who should consider attending? 

Dean: The training is designed to help non-tribal employees become effective allies to the Indigenous community they serve. The training aims to increase understanding and awareness of Indigenous history, culture, and issues faced by Indigenous communities. We also encourage tribal members to attend the training to understand how non-tribal employees can support and work collaboratively within their community.

Tribune: What do you hope will be accomplished?

Dean: The ultimate goal of the training is to empower non-tribal employees with the knowledge and skills necessary to foster respectful and collaborative relationships with the tribal community, ultimately becoming healing advocates.

Tribune: What will a typical training day look like?

Kashem: The Native Wellness Institute provides a mix of informational and educational activities as well as engaging, thoughtful discussions and interactive activities. There will be some large group activities as well as small group discussions. The training will include conversations around allyship (What is an ally? Who determines if you are an ally?), racism, bias, privilege, historical and contemporary trauma, healing and moving forward, and how to be a decolonized ally.

“Being an Ally in Indian Country” is scheduled to take place at the Big Cypress gymnasium July 25-26 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. An RSVP is required by July 14. To register, contact Dean at (954) 263-9937 or

*Native Connections mission statement: “Our mission is to increase awareness of historical and personal trauma and the ways it shows up today (mental health challenges, suicide, substance use), develop and implement programs for tribal youth and families to promote healing and resiliency, and develop and implement trauma-informed policies and services for agencies serving the tribal community (behavioral health, emergency services, crisis response).”

Damon Scott
Damon is a multimedia journalist for the Seminole Tribune. He has previously been an editor and reporter for digital and print media in Florida and his home state of New Mexico. Send him an email at