‘Coyote’s Swing: A Memoir and Critique of Mental Hygiene in Native America’ by David Edward Walker

I am pleased to announce the release of David Walker’s new book Coyote’s Swing, in which he condemns the U.S. mental health system’s partnership with the pharmaceutical industry and presents research on this system’s history of complicity with Native oppression.

Here is the press release, author biography, and a review (NB. I have broken up some of the long paragraphs to make online reading easier):

Psychologist’s Experiences  and Research Expose How Western Mental Health Ideology Threatens Native Lives and Culture

‘PULLMAN, Wash.— David Edward Walker combines firsthand experiences as a consulting psychologist with rare history and sociocultural critique to expose how the U.S. mental health system reframes Native American reactions to oppression and marginalization into “mental disorders” and “mental illness.”

His new book, Coyote’s Swing: A Memoir and Critique of Mental Hygiene in Native America, also reveals how contemporary U.S. Indian Health Service (IHS) practices echo historical injustices of false imprisonment, stigmatization, forced sterilization, and long-standing doctrines of impairment and deficiency foreign to Native values of spiritual balance and wellbeing.

“This book is like a song that arose out of grief. I remember saying, ‘I have to write something,’ as I walked out of a crisis residential center in 2002 after trying to ‘evaluate’ a Native young man so sedated by psychiatric drugs, he couldn’t recall his own name,” Walker says.

While working at IHS from 2000 to 2004, he encountered a PTSD “Self-Quiz” developed by Pfizer Corporation to help market psychiatric drugs. The pamphlet created confusion for Native patients waiting for services in an IHS mental health department. Were they truly “disordered” as this medical model suggested, or were they hopeless and despairing due to hardships beyond their control?

After Walker advocated internally for closer attention to research about psychiatric drugs and suicide risk, IHS officials placed him on a “performance improvement plan.” Even after he left the IHS, he continued to witness countless similar incidents of mental health system incompetence and oppression across his decades of work in Native America.

Written for general readers, students, educators, and mental health professionals interested in multicultural and social justice issues, controversies in mental health, and a deeper understanding of the troubled interface between Native America and mainstream society, Walker condemns the U.S. mental health system’s partnership with the pharmaceutical industry and presents research on this system’s history of complicity with Native oppression.

Using a traditional Yakama tale as motif, he shows how the “white man’s Cat” continues to push Coyote, Trickster Hero of the Yakama people, on a “swing” of Western mental health ideology that has threatened Native lives and cultures for over 150 years.

Published by Washington State University (WSU) Press, Coyote’s Swing is paperback, 6″ x 9″, 410 pages, and lists for $34.95. It is available through bookstores nationwide, direct from WSU Press at 800-354-7360, or online at wsupress.wsu.edu. A nonprofit academic publisher associated with Washington State University in Pullman, Washington, WSU Press concentrates on telling unique, focused stories of the Northwest.

Author Biography

David Edward Walker, Ph.D., holds a doctorate of philosophy in clinical psychology from the University of Detroit. In 2000, he accepted a position as the sole professional psychologist serving the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation with the U.S. Indian Health Service (IHS), relocated with his family to central Washington, and immediately found himself at odds with the agency’s “medical model” approach to mental health.

Yet as his rapport and friendship with the Yakama Nation community expanded, a collaboration led to the design and launch of the first behavioral health program centered on Yakama cultural values and virtues, Niix Ttáwaxt (neeK tau’waukT, ‘good growth to maturity’). Walker left the IHS in 2004, but continued to work under contract with the Yakama Nation until late 2021.

In his everyday work as a psychologist in Native America, Walker witnessed the application of troubling ideas and practices by a lesser-known oppressor—the U.S. mental health system itself. Although some of his Native clients were able to overcome nearly insurmountable social, economic, and racist barriers, others became more desperate, lost their way, or even took their own lives.

He wants the U.S. mental health system held accountable for its complicity and incompetence in responding to Native reactions to chronic oppression and marginalization. Walker’s initial efforts came through a series of critical articles for Indian Country Today, which were widely viewed and shared, inspiring his research and writing of Coyote’s Swing.

Walker has also published articles in the International Journal of Critical Psychology, Ethical Human Psychology & Psychiatry, andJournal of Clinical Psychology. He serves as an advisory editor for Ethical Human Psychology & Psychiatry and has been a faculty member at the Washington School of Professional Psychology, Heritage University (at Yakama Nation), Oakland University, Wayne State University Medical School, and Eastern Michigan University.

He is a member of the International Society for Ethical Psychology and Psychiatry and the Society of Indian Psychologists. He also wrote a popular blog for the Mad in America news site.’

I’ve been in contact with David for a number of years and I love his work with Native Americans and in the mental health field, and his passion for the human rights of Native Americans. I can’t wait to read his book, which I will write a review for when I have read a copy. I am sure I will enjoy reading Coyote’s Swing. Here’s one review I have seen:

“An engaging and highly informative read that expertly weaves a much-needed counterpoint to the prevailing narratives of the mental health profession. Dave Walker guides the reader along a path that few have traveled, bringing his story to life with the unheard voices and stories of those marginalized by the mental health system. Within this story is another, that of Dave Walker’s own path from an angry youth rebelling in pain and anger and addiction, to a respected mental health professional who feels a duty to expose the failings of the system he has devoted his adult life to. His ability to take complex source material and create from it an engaging story that captures a reality of contemporary indigenous mental health is exceptional. He has clearly worked to honor those about whom he writes, and does so with grace, dignity and understanding. Whilst this book recounts a past of marginalization and oppression of a Native people, it is also a story of survivorship, resilience, and, at the end, a humble and heartfelt hope.”—Dr. Amber Logan, psychologist, public health professional, Indigenous historian, and traditional Kahungunu Maori wahine