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Cultivating Good Mental Health in an Indigenous Community: The Power of Dance

How can we cultivate good mental health for ourselves and the people around us? Today’s story focuses on how mental health can be influenced by the unique communities we’ve grown up in. Part of our Southeast Idaho community is the Shoshone-Bannock tribes. Since we all have unique experiences that influence how we deal with our own mental health, there is power in learning from each other. 


Sidney Fellows is an undergraduate student at Idaho State University. She is studying biology and exploring anthropology. I spoke with Sidney to learn more about her perspective on mental health and learn whether being a member of an Indigenous community, the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes, influences her thoughts about mental health.

“I was born into the Shoshone bannock tribes. I'm also a part of the Chippewa Cree tribe,” said Sidney. “Being a part of a tribe, it depends on the individual, but for me it means I have connections to the ancestors. Just like you do, just like anybody does.”

Sidney shared with me that mental health is something that we all deal with, regardless of our particular life experiences or cultural identity.

“Mental health is something that I've had to take responsibility for. Meaning how am I treating my body? What am I putting into my body, whether it be food or thoughts and how am I cultivating peace and happiness for myself rather than looking at other people and expecting them to give that to me. Empowering yourself to know that you are capable of overcoming your challenges in life. Community is a very valuable aspect of overcoming these challenges and I’ve seen that in my life and, within tribal communities, I know that sort of communal connection is important to health as well,” explained Sidney.

Mia Murillo is another member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes who is empowering herself and young girls in the Fort Hall community through dance. Mia is the creator of the Fort Hall Dance Crew and I spoke with Mia to find out more about how dance can positively influence mental health.

“Dancing is in every culture, every heritage. We all dance. It's something that makes us feel good and it gives us that energy that you can't get from anywhere else,” Mia said, “And it is really good for your mind.”

I visited dance practice to gain insights into what it’s like to be a part of the Fort Hall Dance Crew. Practice begins with a warm up routine where the girls stretch, practice turns, and move across the floor to practice leaps.

“One of the main reasons why I started this program is to give the young women confidence in themselves…especially being indigenous women, indigenous young girls coming up into the world, you kind of have to have one foot in your traditions and one foot outside. And that's just the way that we live and that's okay,” Mia shared.

During my second visit to practice, I spoke with dance captain, Amaree Pongah. We stepped outside and Amaree expressed how she feels during dance performances.

“A lot of adrenaline! I wasn’t nervous…mostly happy,” Amaree said.

Mia and I discussed how dance is helping the girls in other aspects of their life.

“I think it's definitely benefiting their lives. And their mental health. And they may not realize it right now, but as they get older, they may look back and I can see them being very thankful and grateful for having, you know, dance in their lives,” Mia said, “I often get the parents reaching out to me, um, letting me know like, Hey, I'm so and so has been striving so much ever since they started the dance crew.”

The Fort Hall Dance Crew started out as a dance class but through the years, it has become a sisterhood where the girls’ mental health can benefit from this shared experience. This is an example of some of the initiatives that people are taking in tribal communities to improve mental health. This idea was echoed by Sidney Fellows.

“There are so many amazing people in reservation communities today who are doing these sort of things. They acknowledge that there is a need within reservation communities to continue contributing healthful change,” Sidney said.

Jamon Anderson has served with KISU FM since 2003 in many capacities including show-host, newscaster, announcer, board operator, production specialist, engineering assistant, automation and programs manager. He is currently KISU's General Manager.