ERIC Identifier: ED399485
Publication Date: 1995-00-00
Author: Peavy, R. Vance
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Counseling and Student Services Greensboro NC., Canadian Guidance and Counselling Foundation Ottawa (Ontario).

Career Counseling with Native Clients: Understanding the Context: ERIC Digest.

In order to discuss career development and counseling sensibly in relation to Native clients (1), it is necessary to state four contextual conditions:

1. There is no generic Native or "Indian." The term "Indian" is a "white" term. For Natives living traditional lives, there are many important clan, band, and tribal differences as well as complicated family politics--all of which influence career development and choice for Native individuals. Career counseling with Native clients requires an unusually large range of cultural understandings and an appreciation of diversity and uniqueness.

2. With regard to Native enculturation and self-identity, there are at least four Native "cultural-self" definitions, each having profound implications for career counseling.(2)

A "traditional" Native supports and lives the traditional way of life through use of foods, medicines, social organization, ceremonies, and communication, and is happy with this way of life.

An "assimilated" Native supports and lives the modern, dominant society way of life through use of foods, social organization, and communication and is happy with this way of life.

A "transitional" Native identity fluctuates between traditional and dominant society, and often exhibits dysfunctional ways of living. The transitional individual is not committed to either culture and may be unhappy, uncertain, or unaware of his or her own lifestyle. He or she is often abusive, substance addicted, manifests low self-esteem and lack of personal stability.

A "bi-cultural" Native person lives and supports both traditional and dominant society ways of living. The bi-cultural person uses both traditional and dominant society foods, medicines, and social organization, and may engage in both clan and nuclear family patterns. In contrast to the other identities, the bi-cultural individual has reconciled cultural differences and is at peace with reconciliation. If career counseling is to be at all effective, it must take these differing life-styles and identities into account.

3. Career development for Native youth is seriously impeded by two characteristics of dominant society schools.

Lack of attention, understanding, and respect on the part of school personnel (including career counselors) toward the linguistic and cultural identities of Native students.

Lack of structural support or "Native cultural presence" for students who are attempting to retain Native cultural identity. A counseling preoccupation with the "self" of Native students as a step toward career development is all too often assimilative and contributes to the creation of transitional, dysfunctional lifestyles. Though unintentional, career counselors perform a kind of colonization of the Native mind (Madsen, 1990) when they attribute importance and value to academic, social, and vocational values and tasks as they understand them. If career counseling and development is to make sense to Native students, ways must be found for Native students to find and use their own "cultural voices" in career exploration and to use their own life experiences as building blocks for a hopeful future.

4. Training in "multicultural counseling" is not an answer for providing sensible career counseling for Native clients for at least two reasons. First, Natives are not immigrants. Persons who come to North America as refugees and immigrants have an expectation, as does the dominant society, that in due time they will attain full membership in the North American dominant society. Their direction is clearly assimilative and contrasts absolutely with many Natives who struggle to preserve their historical, cultural identity as an "original" or "First Nations" people. Second, to "migrate" is to leave one culture and to re-establish oneself in another culture (Bissoondath, 1994). Most "First Nations" peoples are dedicated to retaining their Native cultural identity and, in many instances, interested in developing a bi-cultural ability to navigate harmoniously back and forth between Native and dominant culture.


Our research (Peavy, 1994) suggests at least five ways in which career work with Native youth can reduce racism and dominant society suppression of Native identity and give Native youth more voice in the formulation of career conceptions which are sensible to them:

Provide financial and conceptual support for educating Natives as career counselors for Native youth. Native community leaders and elders should have a say in the composition of such training programs.

Take steps in school programs to ensure that Native youth can receive career counseling from Native counselors, if they want it, or from non-Native counselors who have successfully established credibility and rapport with Native clients and with the larger Native community.

Restructure counselor education programs to include courses in Native psychology, language, history and culture. Include "immersion" experiences in the Native community. At the very least, counselors of Native youth should have participated in Native community events and should have first-hand knowledge of the cultural protocols typical of the Native cultural groups.

Develop career counseling programs to include experiences and materials tailored to the needs of Native youth; use suitable role models--for identity purposes and for career emulation.

Revise the basic process of career counseling for Natives needs. In contrast with formalized, self-focused counseling based on dominant society education and psychological principles, Native-appropriate counseling might employ, for example, narrative and story-telling as a central counseling procedure (Peavy, 1992). Storytelling is a good vehicle for rethinking one's "career identity" in relation to social, political, and economic realities, and can help counselors and clients find ways to reclaim identities as members of a respected cultural group. Further, storied counseling enables Native clients to explore ways to navigate through school and dominant culture.


The contextual consideration outlined in this paper provide a framework for career counseling with Native youth. It is a framework which links Native tradition, community, and culture to Native experience in dominant society schools and which helps Native youth construct a personal voice and identity, yet, at the same time, learn to navigate school and majority cultural life. This framework suggests that a career counseling approach with Native clients can be constructed which respects Native culture and promotes ability and hope for bi-cultural navigation and career formation.


Bissoondath, N. (1994). "Selling Illusions: The Cult of Multiculturalism in Canada." Toronto, ON: Penguin.

Madsen, E. (1990). "The Symbolism Associated with Dominant Society Schools in Native American Communities: An Alaskan Example." Canadian Journal of Native Education, 17, 43-53.

Peavy, R. V. (1992, September). "Constructivism and the Practice of Storied Counseling." Paper presented to the IAVEG Congress, Lisbon, Portugal.

Peavy, R. V. (1994). "Counselling First Nations Students: A Research Report." Victoria, BC: British Columbia Ministry of Education.


(1) For consistency, I use the term "Native" in this paper without prejudice to other terms, such as "Indian," "Aboriginal," "First Nations," and "Indigenous."

(2) I am indebted to Wedlidi Speck for these distinctions. Wedlidi Speck is a status Indian and member of the Nimpkish Band of the Kwakiutl Agency and is a traditional-based counselor.

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