November is Native American Heritage Month, honoring significant contributions the Indigenous people of the Americas made to the establishment and growth of the United States.

Honoring Native American Heritage Month

In recognition of this observance, Wendde Kneram joined the People of Avamere Pod to share her experience in advocating for cultural sensitivity and communication for Alaskan Natives.

Wendde, occupational therapist (OTR/L) and Director of Rehab with Infinity Rehab, a senior therapy organization, led this project in 2019 as part of the Leadership Academy, one of Infinity Rehab’s professional development programs.

Purpose of Native Alaskan cultural project

Wendde Kneram & Derek FenwickWendde titled her project Running in Like a Bear.

“I would rush into the room as we often do as therapists,” Wendde said. She would get right into the session, asking the patient how they’re doing, about their home, and who they live with.

After one session, a family member took Wendde aside and explained that eye contact was considered disrespectful.

“I realized then that I wasn’t aware enough of the Alaskan culture and how it was affecting my approach, my relationship with those residents,” Wendde shared.

Understanding Native Alaskan culture

Wendde invited Melissa Consteneata, Elder Youth Program Manager with the Alaskan Native Tribal Council, to lead three workshops at her building, Prestige Care and Rehabilitation Center in Anchorage, Alaska.

These workshops were:

  • History of Alaska
  • Overview of Alaskan Native cultures
  • Communication techniques

Some of Wendde’s key communication takeaways include:

  • Do not make initial eye contact
  • Sit side by side
  • Slow down speech
  • Speak in a soft tone
  • Allow the patient to contribute to the story by pausing and listening before asking questions

Continually sharing Native Alaskan cultural knowledge

Today Wendde and her team continue to spread and benefit from Melissa’s knowledge. Melissa left them with workshop materials, including historical information, communication tips, and more.

Staff report to Wendde that the information has been helpful in building relationships with residents and helping them meet their goals. Wendde also utilizes these materials as part of new employee orientation to give them this crucial information right from the start.

“Right from the beginning, we’re able to make those relationships instead of making those missteps,” Wendde expressed.

A bit about Wendde

Originally from Western Pennsylvania, she has lived in various places as part of an Army family.

Her husband recently retired after over 30 years of service in the Army, where he was an infantry officer.

“That really instilled in our whole family that sense of service and giving back to the community,” Wendde shared, as her family all serves the community in various ways.

Her oldest child is a captain in the Army, and his wife is an Apache pilot. Her second son is in the National Guard in Alaska. And her daughter serves her local community as a speech-language pathologist in North Carolina, where her spouse is a military police officer.

Discovering her passion for therapy

Wendde has worked with Infinity Rehab for eight years and is LSVT-BIG and PWR! certified in Parkinson’s and Neuro disorders.

She was first introduced to the therapy world in high school, when her friend was receiving physical and occupational therapy following a car accident. She studied occupational therapy as part of a project and discovered her love for the field.

“I caught the passion for being able to help somebody become more independent, really looking at their life through their occupations of life,” Wendde shared.

Listen to the podcast

Find out more about Wendde and her project on Native Alaskan cultural sensitivity in a special podcast episode of the People of Avamere Pod. Listen below or tune in at PeopleOfAvamere.com, Spotify, or Google Podcasts.

Follow Infinity Rehab on Facebook for educational resources and more in recognition of Native American Heritage Month.

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