CODI: Cornucopia of Disability Information
Native American Rehabilitation - Montana
The Flathead Reservation area has a total population of approximately 22,000 people with 6,000 individuals of Indian descent. Of that figure, 3,500 are enrolled members of the confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes. Approximately 73% of the reservationXs total population is non-lndian, while 27% iS Indian. Members of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes make up 16% of the total Flathead Reservation population and 59% of the total Indian population residing on the reservation.
Languages spoken are the Salish and the Kootenal. The reservation is located in the mountainous and heavily wooded area of western Montana. The southern end of Flathead lake, the largest freshwater body of water west of the Mississippi, forms the northern boundary of the reservation.
The everyday affairs concerning the reservation are handled by a Tribal Council. The members of the Tribal Council have traditionally been males. In the recent election of council members, three of the members elected were females and two of these were elected officers. Issues that pertain to culture, air, water and land are also dealt with by cultural committees and in all decisions the body of tribal elders play a significant role in the decision making process.
Some of the major health issues on the reservation are diabetes, heart disease, and chemical dependency. Current efforts of medical services on the reservation are focused on these concerns as well as wellness issues and other activities. The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes' Vocational Rehabilitation Project (CSKTVRP) deals with these medical issues and also with a broad spectrum of muscular-skeletal problems which are also highly prevalent among the reservation population.
Unemployment on the reservation generally runs among the highest in the state of Montana, particularly among the tribal population. The tribe, on the other hand, is the largest employer on the reservation. At the present time, there are 668 tribal employees; when employees at the Salish Kootenai College and private enterprise situations are included, there are approximately 1,200 tribal/tribally related employees.
There are reservation-wide tribal education committees who work closely with all the schools to facilitate the design/implementation of programs to retain children in school. Salish Kootenai College, a tribal college, offers a host of two year degrees, certificates and several four year degree programs for both tribal and non-tribal students. A Bachelor of Arts Degree in Human Services with an emphasis on Rehabilitation as well as associate degrees in Human Services and in Chemical Dependency are presently offered on the college campus.
Traditionally, tribal members did not spend a great deal of time worrying about what a disabled individual "couldn't do." What a person "could do" was what was important and what you couldn't do someone else would take care of - a natural process where everyone functioned as a unit. This has changed somewhat today. People on the reservation are beginning to realize that there are services available that are uniquely geared to get an individual back into the work force. Consumers surveyed are uniformly of the opinion that rehabilitation services have been the primary key in assisting them in becoming employable once again, or in some instances employable for the first time.
Twenty years ago, rehabilitation services were practically nonexistent on the reservation. Seven or eight years ago, at the point in time when the first Section 130 project was initiated in this area, there were one or two individuals served per year by the state vocational rehabilitation services. Since that period and with the ever expanding range of services offered through the Human Services department at the college, the number of individuals receiving services has increased and is running between 40-50 individuals being served per year at this time. With the additional grants coming into the department at this time, we are able to offer additional supported employment services as well as transportation services.
traditional healing practices into the rehabilitation plan. We emphasize outreach efforts and utilize tribal members as counselors. All of these aspects play a part in facilitating a comfortable exchange between the disabled population and the local Section 130 proiect staff.
Persons with disabilities on the Flathead Reservation appear to represent a significant number of individuals with muscular-skeletal disabilities. This is the primary disabling condition at this time with approximately one-third of the individuals being served having this type of disability. Other types of disabilities include visual, hearing, amputation, chemical dependency, psychological, in addition to disabilities related to the heart and lungs.
A long lasting need in this area has been the lack of available transportation services. This need is currently being addressed somewhat by the transportation services offered through a grant received by the Human Services department this past year. Another major need that is also just beginning to be addressed is timely and quality transitioning services for students just leaving school or quitting school.
Rehabilitation efforts on the Flathead Reservation will continue to be expanded and will continue to play a major role in the future in providing services for individuals with disabilities in this area. The Section 130 projects, we feel, have amply demonstrated that they can reach the people who need their services, and at the same time take into account an awareness of the cultural nusncec that can make a major difference in whether an individual has a successful employment outcome or not.
Technological developments have played a relatively small, but increasingly important, role in the rehabilitation efforts in this area. Adaptive equipment is being utilized and a typical comment made by a first-time user is, "Wow, I didn't know that these things existed!" Our project is making an effort to reach out to the local population in order to inform them of some of the technology available to individuals with disabilities.
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