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Program's traditional services seek funds from Navajo Nation

Noel Lyn Smith
Farmington Daily Times
Delegate Daniel E. Tso examines the entrance of a sweat lodge at Totah Behavioral Health Authority in Farmington on June 6.

FARMINGTON — Officials at Totah Behavioral Health Authority met with Navajo Nation Council delegates to discuss the tribe help fund the program's traditional services.

Totah Behavioral Health Authority was founded in 2001 to offer support services, counseling, assessments and referrals for individuals experiencing problems with alcohol and substance abuse. It is now an entity under Presbyterian Medical Services.

Part of its resources is traditional services that are managed by staff members who coordinate and provide counseling that utilize a sweat lodge, talking circle, men and women groups, traditional education, protection prayers, drumming circle and cultural activities.

"You're not an alcoholic, you're family," traditional services coordinator Anna Holiday said about the approach used by the traditional services.

Kristine Carlson, program and clinical administrator for Totah, said on average, 96 percent of individuals undergoing treatment are Native American and predominately Navajo.

Delegates Eugene Tso, Pernell Halona and Paul Begay, from left, listen to information about traditional services offered at Totah Behavioral Health Authority in Farmington on June 6.

Last year, the cost for operating the traditional services program was $400,000, Carlson said in a June 6 presentation to the Law and Order Committee and the Health, Education and Human Services Committee.

She added the traditional services program in 2018 received $120,000 from the New Mexico Department of Health.

While officials are grateful the tribal government was among the key figures that started Totah, financial support from the tribe has been on and off since the start, Carlson said.

The discussion about Totah's services resonated with Delegates Eugene Tso, Edison Wauneka and Pernell Halona, who shared stories about the impact of alcohol and substance abuse on their families.

Robert Curley, traditional counselor for Totah Behavioral Health Center, talks on June 6 about using a sweat lodge as part of traditional services at the campus in Farmington.

While delegates commended Totah officials and staff, they did not commit to providing assistance.

Rather, Delegate Daniel E. Tso, who serves as chairman for the Health, Education and Human Services Committee, recommended the officials submit a request to the tribal government immediately.

He added that factors such as trauma and violence have a role in alcohol and substance abuse.

"Those things, it all plays into it. You see the person on the street, you don't know what their DNA is composed of. And for us, as Navajo people, we give up on them easily. … Those are aspects that you folks are not giving up on," Tso said.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at nsmith@daily-times.com.