By JONAH LOSSIAH
One Feather Reporter
CHEROKEE, N.C. – Anatta Harding was desperately looking for some help while she and her son were adjusting to a move to Cherokee. More than anything she was trying to find a Circle of Security program, a guided group that focuses on improving ‘the development pathway of children and their parents’. Harding had gone through the program twice before.
“I was not happy with some of the things I was doing as a mom. I was like, ‘I need to do that course again’. I needed help. So, I reached out to Analenisgi. They said they didn’t have any parenting programs. I said there has to be something. They said to go to Family and Children Services,” said Harding.
One call led to another, and Harding soon found herself speaking with Rob Stokely, assistant manager of Child and Family Services.
“I can do that, but I haven’t done it in a while,” said Stokely over the phone. “I’m new here, I’m not sure if this is something that the community wants or needs. Anatta said, ‘I want it. I need it. I’ve had it two times before, and I definitely need it again.’ That started the process of gathering participants,” said Stokely.
Circle of Security is a program that is used to develop and strengthen relationships between children and caregivers.
“When children are able to form healthy, secure attachments with their primary care givers, that becomes the template for their relationships throughout their entire life. Similarly, if you have an insecure attachment or an anxious attachment, if you have those, they also become a template throughout your life. Relationships interpersonally, but also how you relate with your world. Your jobs or your dreams,” said Harding.
Harding and her partner, Michael Youngdeer, see Circle of Security as a huge opportunity for Cherokee parents and caregivers. They think it could assist with many of the most pertinent issues on the Qualla Boundary.
“In my graduating class, we graduated in 2009, we’ve lost almost 30 people. We only had a graduating class of 56, I believe. And the same thing goes for my sister,” said Youngdeer.
“There are some many things that people turn to. Substance abuse and things like that. They don’t have a parent to turn to. That parent has been like, ‘you go off and do it on your own. You need to be grown up about it. You can’t come to me’. Their self-esteem has been obliterated with their parent.”
Harding said that while the program is standardized, it can help a multitude of situations.
“Some people are referred to this program because their children are having behavioral issues. It’s very effective at helping the parent resolve the behavioral issues because it equips the parent to recognize what the child is actually needing. And to be able to meet those needs. It’s not about catering to your child, it’s about being skilled to recognize what they need developmentally,” said Harding.
Youngdeer also discussed the idea of Cherokee children often being raised by caregivers that aren’t their parents.
“One of the things that gets tossed around, especially here on the Reservation, everybody here is helping raise children. Children see us, they see other people around here. You’re growing up on a reservation where people are close-knit, in a small town. People see each other day-to-day.”
Stokely said that focusing on the caregiver is an immensely important aspect of how he does his job. He came to work for the Cherokee Indian Hospital Authority in 2022 but has been working in this region for some time.
“I’ve been providing behavioral health services for about 22 years now. One thing that I was identifying is that we are providing support services just to the individual in need. What are we doing for the caregivers? So, over the course of my career I was seeing that we were missing that piece. We’re missing the caregiver support piece. I identified that at Meridian Blue Ridge and it became kind of my jam. I wanted to put my focus to mom and dad. Aunt and uncle. Grandma and grandpa. Whoever the caregiver was,” said Stokely.
“When I got here, I think I felt a similar way. That we were putting all these support services to the individual. What are we doing with caregivers? Being able to work closely with Family Safety in development of the Integrated Child Welfare Team, it just made sense. We have this access, this ease of access to caregivers. It’s been in my head. I credit Anatta with calling and saying hey, let’s do this. Let’s go for it.”
Stokely said that facilitating Circle of Security is a passion of his that he genuinely enjoys. He said that applying that work on the Boundary has been a powerful experience.
“An indigenous person in the group, an older fella, was sharing that ‘I’m conditioned to not have feelings. I’m conditioned to parent a certain way.’ The group response was, is that okay? We’re conditioned and this is the way it is, is that okay? The response from the individual was ‘no, we need change’. For me, change is possible,” said Stokely.
Stokely said that he has enjoyed facilitating this new group, and that he believes it has been successful.
“What I’ve seen with this past group, we’ve just wrapped up session eight, is that people connected. People, I think, left loving one another. There’s a lot of good things happening. One, you’re creating awareness of what attachment is. You’re learning how to support secure attachment. But in the process, you’re connecting with your community members. You’re developing relationships, you’re walking away and you’re creating this support group.”
Harding added to this, saying that simply being in the same room as other Cherokee caregivers has been impactful.
“I think one of the things that I’ve really loved about these last weeks is that we actually have a diversity of Cherokee parents sitting together thinking about parents. Think about their experience and thinking about their children and what they want for them. What they want for their relationship and talking. I think just to have that kind of dialogue week after week is very powerful.”
Stokely said that he cares very deeply about Circle of Security, but it’s unlikely that he will be able to continue offering the service regularly on his own. He doesn’t want to see it go away, but he said it’s going to take community buy-in.
“My hope is that individuals like Anatta and Michael, who really believe in it, are going to be willing to pick it up and support. I don’t want to ever let it go because I really enjoy that connection piece. I like supporting caregivers. I want it to be a part of my role here in this community. But I think ideally the community adopts it and begins facilitating this. Not just me.”
Harding said that this is something she wants to pursue. She has already talked to Stokely about taking the necessary certification courses and she wants to spread the word in whatever ways she can.
“It’s a massive opportunity. I’ve met a lot of Cherokee parents that are already doing amazing things with their parenting and say, ‘I want more’. And that doesn’t necessarily look like a program type of experience, it could look like anything. But people have expressed to me as a fellow parent that they’re excited and they’re committed to do something different than what their parents were able to do. They’re hungry for learning. To make something permanent or long-term, I think how Michael and I feel is that it’s about somehow integrating into our local culture.”
Harding and Youngdeer want to see their community build and grow. Stokely and the hospital want to support efforts moving forward. However, they all agree that it all comes down to what Cherokee wants. If this is a program that interests people, they will need to reach out for it to continue.
Stokely will be facilitating another group this June, and anyone interested can reach him at (828) 507-2783 to sign up. You could also email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.