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Terrance LaFromboise is seen with one of many COVID-19 outreach projects aimed at suicide prevention and mental health in Blackfeet Country. The hopeful reminder stands near Seville on the eastern edge of the Blackfeet Reservation.

Terrance LaFromboise is a busy person. Still an active member of the Silent Warrior Coalition and the Pikuni Youth Council, he is currently a Montana Crisis Counselor with Mental Health America Montana. 

“We’re helping people deal with and work through the changes that happened in 2020,” he said. “2020 has really impacted a lot of families, not only in our Indigenous communities but all of our Montana communities.”

Having graduated with an associate’s degree in addiction studies from Blackfeet Community College, LaFromboise went on to graduate with honors from the University of Montana, earning a bachelor’s degree in social work. He is currently a graduate student at the University of Toronto and is set to earn his master’s degree in social work with an emphasis on Indigenous trauma and resiliency. His stint as a Crisis Counselor is part of a practicum to fulfill his requirements to graduate.

“The MSW-ITR [Master of Social Work - Indigenous Trauma and Resiliency] program has really challenged me to look inward and to start a process that is called ‘cleaning out your basement,’” he said. “The process helps you connect with the clients, community and the families we serve on the Blackfeet Reservation. It’s looking inward that creates an ability to act outwardly on the simple path of healing yourself. It helps guide you toward helping others in a healthy way.”

The counseling position is funded through a Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMSHA) grant in direct response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This Covid response grant is something that is really needed across Montana,” LaFromboise said. “There’s been so much disconnection to our systems of care that having a resource like the Montana Crisis Recovery Project is something I feel all Montana communities and Indigenous communities need. They need to know that we are here to listen. We are here to support and guide, to help connect and process this 2020 experience.”

Working with three crisis hotlines, LaFromboise helps people with what he calls “psycho-education,” which differs from psychotherapy.

“We have six Tribal Relations Counselors and about 20 counselors all together that work on the Suicide Hotline, the Montana Warm Line and the Health Care Crisis Line,” he said. The executive director of the project is Michelle Aune; the project director is Genea Fields.

 “The mission of the Tribal Relations Crisis Counselor is to assist individuals and communities in recovering from the psychological effects of disasters through the provision of community-based outreach and educational services,” LaFromboise explained. “It supports short term interventions to assist disaster survivors in understanding their current situation and reactions, mitigating stress and promoting the use or development of coping strategies. It also provides emotional support and encourages links with other individuals and agencies who may help survivors in their recovery process.”

LaFromboise points out that while the SAMSHA grant is designed to deliver services in response to natural disasters, it’s application during COVID-19 fits the situation in Blackfeet country perfectly.

“Services are provided at no cost and are available to any survivor who has been impacted by the disaster,” he said of the program. “These services are delivered in accessible locations, including survivors’ homes, shelters, temporary living sites and places of worship. Services can be provided in a group setting or one-on-one.

”As the program was originally created, people would be going from door to door, talking with people to see how they are doing and how they could be helped,” he said. “Now we’re going by phone and relying on outreach. The original program was for a crisis and now we have a pandemic, so I think we should be going door to door and checking on people.”

Before the pandemic, the Silent Warriors would go around the neighborhoods of Blackfeet Country, drumming, singing and praying for the communities they visited.

“This is a natural outgrowth of the Prayer Warriors,” LaFromboise said.

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