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Listening to Their Stories, Misty Shasceen Taylor Helps to Heal and Protect Tribal Families

She earned both her BASW and MSW in San Diego State's Title IV-E Program

October 10, 2017

“The truth about stories is that that’s all we are,” writes Native American author Thomas King.

Misty Shasceen Taylor, the Domestic Violence/Sexual Assault Therapist at the Indian Health Council in Santa Ysabel, cites Mr. King when describing her work and says, “I feel very honored that people are willing to share their stories with me.” 

In Misty’s story, her family and the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) of 1978 have been ubiquitous influences. Her mother was a Tribal social worker for the ICWA for 23 years; following in her mother’s footsteps, Misty also is a Tribal social worker with the ICWA.

But before the ICWA—and what her mother discovered many years ago—her father (Misty’s grandfather), as a child, was removed from his family and reservation, like so many other Indian children during that dark period in American history. He was placed in a mission boarding school, Sherman Indian School, in Riverside. He died at age 45 the year Misty was born.

View the Common Core Curriculum "ICWA: Working with Native American Families and Tribes"

“The interesting part of this story,” says Misty, “is that both my mother and I became social workers working specifically as Tribal social workers within the Indian Child Welfare Act without ever knowing the story of her father, my grandfather.” In becoming a social worker, Misty says, “I guess I would say my mother inspired me, and I was unknowingly inspired by a grandfather I never knew.”

“With that story aside,” Misty continues, “I believe it is my obligation/duty to help heal and protect Tribal families because I have had opportunities that other NA people have not been afforded. I was able to go to school, took a very long time, but I finished, and I feel I need to give back to Tribal communities.”

Earning Her BASW and MSW with Title IV-E

Misty earned both her BASW and MSW in the Title IV-E Stipend Program at San Diego State University. “Being in the Title IV-E Stipend Program absolutely gave me the additional support I would not have received, and I would mostly likely have struggled so much more in navigating college,” she says. “The coordinators were always available and were always close by. I am still in contact with key staff to this day. I felt they understood the added difficulties of living 55 miles from college on my reservation and the difficulty of always being ‘the only Indian in the room’.”

Her field placement for her BASW was with the Indian Specialty Unit “along with social workers I knew since childhood, being that my mother worked with them years ago. I felt encouraged and welcomed.”

For the MSW program, Misty recalls, “I felt similar support and connection. I was also very fortunate to be able to intern at my local Indian Health Clinic. I understand that the Title IV-E Project Coordinator worked very hard for me to get this internship, and he really worked outside of the box. I know the Title IV-E staff all around were very supportive of me, and I felt cared for during that time in my life.”

Benefits of Community, Familiarity

Misty, an LCSW, has been a therapist in the Behavioral Health Department of the Indian Health Council since 2015. Coming from a similar community as her clients is a plus, she says, noting, “I have the basic understanding of where they come from and what reservation life is like.” She says, “I prefer to work with trauma—and there are multiple complex traumas in Tribal communities—and to be able to not only sit with someone and their trauma story, but to also assist with basic needs in life.”

She enjoys the familiarity of the Indian Health Council. “It is a place I have been going to for medical and dental services since childhood,” says Misty. “I appreciate working with other local NA co-workers because of the support and understanding of our similar experiences working within our own community. And we laugh a lot, as laughing is a major way of coping in Tribal communities.”

Indian Expert Witness, Tribal Responsibilities, Career

Again following in her mother's footstep, Misty since 2014 has been an Indian Expert Witness for San Diego County—a role passed down generationally from her mother, who in 1983 was one of California’s first Expert Witnesses. In stark contrast to, and because of experiences like her grandfather’s, the ICWA requires the testimony of an Indian Expert when, among other situations, an Indian child/children are removed from the care of their parents by CWS to ensure active efforts were made to prevent the breakup of the Indian family and to ensure actions taken were culturally appropriate and there weren’t any cultural misunderstandings.

Additionally, Misty is an enrolled Tribal Member of and since 2010 a Tribal Council Member for the Iipay Nation of Santa Ysabel. Similar to the federal government, the Nation has three branches of government. She serves on the Legislative Branch and helps to write laws for the Tribe, among other duties. They meet weekly and once a month as an entire community called the General Council Meeting.

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Being an enrolled Tribal Member can occasionally complicate working with people in her own community, Misty observes. For example, “When I am assigned clients, I must first see if they are related to me and if we have a prior relationship,” she says. “I can work with those related to me as long as there never was a prior relationship. Most people from the Tribes we work with are related somehow to each other, so this can be tricky to navigate. I have to use my best judgment when treating clients.”

In her personal life, Misty says, “I will see clients at the local store, post office, community gatherings, community events, funerals, cultural classes, etc. This can be uncomfortable for us both, and I am sure to let my clients know that I will not approach them in public to protect their confidentiality; however, they are welcome to approach me.”

Consequently, Misty says, “I don’t go out into the community much, and I am very careful to try to at least keep my private life private. I have to protect my reputation as a professional. The more clients I see, the less chance I have of connecting with people as friends, so my world is getting smaller and smaller by the day. My family is sometimes uncomfortable if a client approaches them and discloses I am their therapist. My family is confused by this because who I work with is, of course, all confidential. Lastly, there is the concept of lateral oppression.”

Reflects Misty, “No matter how much you try to prevent it, being a therapist will cost you something.”

Cherishing Clients and Their Stories

Still, says Misty, “There is something very healing for both client and therapist throughout the therapy process. The therapist may be the better ‘perceiver’ but not the better ‘knower.’ For me, a therapist is about being there alongside a client as support on their journey, and we are both climbing our own mountains in life." She says. "I cherish the process of being present with clients as they unravel their own stories and witness their moments of clarity, sharing in their experience of forgiving others and themselves, accepting themselves as they are, and then watching change happen when they suddenly realize they are not alone, watching the surprise when they realize what they said out loud was exactly what they needed to hear."

Read 7 Facts about the IV-E Stipend Program

“When people get better, there is this sort of ‘high’ I feel. I realize this sounds odd, but it is the only way I know how to describe it. I truly care about my clients, and I will always cherish every story. I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to go to college and have such an amazing career,” says Misty.

Misty’s story would not be complete without mentioning that she is also a mother to “a very imaginative 11-year-old son.” She says he likes to remind her, “It’s not therapy hour; don’t therapize me.” He often turns things around and asks her how she feels. So, she says, she’d like to turn the tables and ask him, “Are you going to be the third-generation social worker?”