When St. Catherine University’s Master of Arts in Holistic Health Studies alumna Renee Beaulieu-Banks MAHS’19 meets with patients at the Native American Community Clinic in Minneapolis, they will smudge and say a prayer before they begin their work together. “Smudging is a ritual using the sacred medicines of the First Nation people to start out the meeting in a good way, to cleanse, ground, and create a spiritual atmosphere where it is safe and protected,” says Beaulieu-Banks. She is enrolled in the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe and is currently one of the Elders in Residence at the Native American Community Clinic (NACC), where she works directly with patients and healthcare providers to offer American Indian spiritual, cultural, and traditional knowledge. She also works with the behavioral health and medical clinic to assist with integrating the Indigenous worldview within the Western models.
In October 2020, her work at the NACC during the COVID-19 pandemic drew attention and she was featured in the U.S. and World News Report article “A Native American Clinic Gives Doses of Cultural Healing During COVID-19.” The article shares how Beaulieu-Banks and the clinic she works in are using traditional Native American cultural healing, in addition to bio-medical or “Western” care, that is helping to heal the Twin Cities Native American community during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Systemically, the government and the institutions within the government do not embrace the worldview of the First Nation people, and it is left out of the Western dominant structures,” says Beaulieu-Banks. Integrating both social orders assists staff and patients to understand the experiences and history of the Indigenous people. “I assist with understanding Indigenous cultural traditions so that the First Nation people feel embraced, understood, and welcome,” Beaulieu-Banks says.
She continues, “The worldview of Indigenous people is based on a holistic model of being. Meaning it incorporates the mind, body, spirit, and emotions/relations. In order to nurture and maintain health and healing, the ‘whole’ person must be assessed. It is a belief that all components within the holistic model are interdependent on another, so you cannot be physically healthy if your emotional, spiritual, and/or mental health is at risk. I help to destigmatize and decolonize the systems as much as possible.”
Beaulieu-Banks explains, “I have patients who have said to me that they feel at home at NACC. For an American Indian person to say this while visiting a medical clinic is remarkable.”
Renee Beaulieu-Banks’ Journey at St. Kate’s
Beaulieu-Banks was not originally looking to get a Master of Arts in Holistic Health Studies from St. Catherine University, but she saw an ad for the program and became curious. She had an established career and was in a position where she thought she’d remain until retirement. “My Higher Power had a different plan for me,” Beaulieu-Banks says. “The Holistic Health program resonated with me, as it is akin to the Medicine Wheel philosophy that my people believe.”
When she entered the MAHS program in 2017, Beaulieu-Banks was impressed by the welcoming and respectful behavior of St. Kate’s faculty and staff. “There was a consistent acknowledgement of the land and the first inhabitants and a show of gratitude, humility, and integrity during my time there as a student. I learned what it is to be accepted, validated, and embraced as an American Indian woman,” she recalls.
Beaulieu-Banks refers to herself as “a product of historical trauma,” which is defined by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families as “multigenerational trauma experienced by a specific cultural, racial or ethnic group. It is related to major events that oppressed a particular group of people because of their status as oppressed, such as slavery, the Holocaust, forced migration, and the violent colonization of Native Americans.”1
Part of Beaulieu-Banks’ historical trauma is rooted in her parents' survival of “Indian boarding schools.” In the article “Boarding Schools: Struggling with Cultural Repression,” published by the National Museum of the American Indian, the museum describes these institutions: "Indian boarding schools were founded to eliminate traditional American Indian ways of life and replace them with mainstream American culture. At boarding schools, Indian children were separated from their families and cultural ways for long periods, sometimes four or more years. […] The boarding schools had a bad effect on the self-esteem of Indian students and on the well-being of Native languages and cultures.”2
“Boarding schools were established as a way to exterminate, and finally to assimilate Indigenous people, and the government focused their attention on the children to ‘Kill the Indian, save the man,’” Beaulieu-Banks says.
During her studies at St. Kate’s, Beaulieu-Banks and two other MAHS students wrote their thesis on “American Indian Perspectives on Healing from Historical Trauma: An Indigenous Inquiry” using the Indigenous worldview. Beaulieu-Banks reflects, “It was a wonderful, life-changing experience. I experienced healing, empowerment, and a confidence I never had before the program. I found support, sisterhood, acceptance, and so much kindness at St. Kate’s.”
Reflecting on advice she received during her studies at St. Kate’s, Beaulieu-Banks recalls, “You get back what you give — don’t be afraid to make mistakes. St. Kate’s is an exemplary educational institution, and during my experience there, I had faculty members who are really good at what they do. They are patient and want to be the best when teaching students how to be their best. Trust the process and ask for help when needed.”
Beaulieu-Banks surmises, “Without the experience and knowledge I gained while doing my master’s work at St. Kate’s, I wouldn’t be where I am today. It’s launched me into a deep connection with my ancestors, community, and generations to come. I feel blessed and I have faith that there is a greater existence at work guiding me through this life here on earth.”