Dr. Anitra Warrior, far left, speaks during a ribbon-cutting ceremony for a new office for Morningstar Counseling in Lincoln, Nebraska, on February 18, 2020. Warrior owns the firm, which also has offices on three reservations in Nebraska.
Photo by Kevin Abourezk
A Native American woman-owned counseling firm with offices in three Native communities in Nebraska further expanded its reach this week after opening a new office in Lincoln, Nebraska.
Morningstar Counseling, which is owned by Dr. Anitra Warrior, moved into a much larger office in order to provide space for its expanded staff and programs, Warrior said at a ribbon-cutting ceremony Tuesday. The business began 10 years ago at the Lincoln Indian Center.
“This really signifies the need in the community,” said Warrior, a psychologist. “This gives us the opportunity to serve more families, to do more partnerships.”
Warrior, a citizen of the Ponca Tribe of Oklahoma, said the partnerships her firm has established with tribes and other Native and non-Native organizations has fueled her company’s growth.
Among the firm’s partners is Santee Sioux Nation Society of Care, a program through the Santee Sioux Nation that provides behavioral health services to Native youth.
Greg Donovan, director of Society of Care, said Morningstar Counseling serves as his organization’s clinical provider and offers counseling and other services to Society of Care clients.
“The Society of Care wouldn’t exist in the way it does and be able to serve families as well as it does without Morningstar,” he said.
He said Society of Care, which has expanded its own programs significantly in recent years, has grown alongside Morningstar Counseling.
“It’s just very impressive to see a Native-owned, female-owned business thrive,” Donovan said.
Morningstar also has other Nebraska offices in: Macy and Walthill on the Omaha Reservation; at the Santee Sioux Health Center Santee on the Santee Sioux Reservation; Winnebago Public School on the Winnebago Reservation; and Beatrice, south of Lincoln.
“Morningstar certainly serves a lot of different people who have a lot of different needs,” said Chris Whitney, communications coordinator for the Lincoln Chamber of Commerce. "They’re really someone that you can come to if you have problems.”
The firm serves children, teenagers and adults who suffer from anxiety, depression, ADHD and trauma, as well as other disorders. The firm partners with schools, medical providers and tribes across Nebraska, Warrior said.
Morningstar works with Lincoln Public Schools, Winnebago Public Schools and the Santee Sioux Nation.
She said her firm focuses on serving all of its clients’ needs, including offering utility assistance and clothing vouchers.
“We’re able to do a lot of advocacy for our families as well,” she said. “We really tried to think outside the box in terms of what our families need to be successful in their lives.”
Morningstar employs 15 people, including master’s level clinicians, psychologists and office staff, and is seeking additional behavioral health providers, Warrior said.
“We’re very thankful to have our dynamic team that’s been put together,” she said.
She said a Native-owned counseling firm is especially effective at serving the unique needs of Native clients.
“For me, as a former consumer of behavioral health services, working with providers who didn’t have an understanding of my culture made it very difficult,” she said.
She said Morningstar has begun offering Native cultural training to non-Native behavioral health providers as well.
“That was a promise I made to myself, that I would start working with communities, that I would offer training opportunities for providers to serve our Native population, and that’s what we’ve been able to do,” she said.
Native people experience different traumas than non-Natives, namely the historical trauma caused by colonization and federal assimilation efforts such as boarding schools, she said. That historical trauma has resulted in disproportionate rates of suicide, alcoholism and depression among Native people.
Warrior said the lack of economic progress in many Native communities creates a sense of hopelessness among Native people, especially young people, that their lives can't be improved.
“In our communities, we see a lot of struggle with the historical trauma and the impact it has had on the lack of change,” she said. “That can cause us to lose hope in many instances.”
It’s important to instill hope in Native youth in order to help them see a path out of their trauma, she said.
She said it’s also important to understand other challenges facing Native youth today, including drug abuse and exposure to traumatic incidents on social media such as Facebook.
Often, Native youth and adults fail to understand the connection between their mental and physical health and their emotions, Warrior said.
“Our emotions demand respect, and they can take over our bodies” she said. “As providers, we have to think outside the box in what we’re providing.”
One-hour counseling sessions often aren’t enough to reverse the impact of traumatic experiences, she said. Therapists have to be willing to meet with parents and educators to understand the challenges facing the youth they are serving, she said.
“This is the only way we’re going to be able to make a difference,” she said. “Ultimately, our goal is to be a good relative, and that is what we need to see in our communities.”