The Blackfeet Indian culture camp: Auditioning an alternative indigenous treatment for substance use disorders

Psychol Serv. 2015 May;12(2):83-91. doi: 10.1037/ser0000013.


American Indian and Alaska Native (AIAN) communities experience alarming health disparities, including high rates of substance use disorders (SUDs). Psychological services for AIANs, including SUDs treatment, are primarily funded by the federal Indian Health Service and typically administered by tribal governments. Tribal administration of SUDs treatment programs has routinely involved either inclusion of traditional cultural practices into program activities or adaptation of conventional treatment approaches to distinctive community sensibilities. In this article, we investigate a third possibility: the collaborative, community-based development of an alternative indigenous intervention that was implemented as a form of SUDs treatment in its own right and on its own terms. Specifically, in July of 2012, we undertook a trial implementation of a seasonal cultural immersion camp based on traditional Pikuni Blackfeet Indian cultural practices for 4 male clients from the reservation's federally funded SUDs treatment program. Given a variety of logistical and methodological constraints, the pilot offering of the culture camp primarily served as a demonstration of "proof of concept" for this alternative indigenous intervention. In presenting and reflecting on this effort, we consider many challenges associated with alternative indigenous treatment models, especially those associated with formal outcome evaluation. Indeed, we suggest that the motivation for developing local indigenous alternatives for AIAN SUDs treatment may work at cross-purposes to the rigorous assessment of therapeutic efficacy for such interventions. Nevertheless, we conclude that these efforts afford ample opportunities for expanding the existing knowledge base concerning the delivery of community-based psychological services for AIANs.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Humans
  • Indians, North American / ethnology*
  • Male
  • Residential Treatment / methods
  • Spiritual Therapies / methods*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / ethnology*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / therapy*
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Young Adult