For Sierra Yazzie Asamoa-Tutu ’06, coming from a Navajo community in New Mexico, Calvin’s Mosaic residence hall floor was where she became comfortable with who she was.
She attended Calvin a bit reluctantly, going because of family history and a Native American scholarship that applied only to U.S. schools.
“I remember coming to Calvin with certain assumptions and expectations,” she said. “I wanted to stand out. I wanted to choose my direction. And the Calvin community embraced me. I became Sierra.”
The Mosaic floor (now called “Grassroots”) is an intentional living-learning environment that explores race and ethnicity.
“My time at Calvin launched my curiosity about the world,” she said. “I studied abroad in Honduras and China. Big questions came up: ‘What’s wrong in our world?’, ‘What can history tell us and teach us?’, ‘Where does this all lead us?’”
That curiosity has led her and her husband, Fidel Asamoa-Tutu ’05, to dream about moving to Fidel’s native country of Ghana and starting an agriculturally based healing ministry.
Sierra Yazzie Asamoa-Tutu spent her college summers with youth missions on reservations in Montana and North Dakota and became interested in the struggle between American Indian culture and Christianity.
She turned that interest into a social work and counseling career in the Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minn., area. She is a “healing generations therapist” at the American Indian Family Center, a position she calls “the perfect job that I never dreamed of.”
“The Twin Cities has a very large American Indian population because it was a major relocation center for persons from the reservations,” she said.
“For many American Indian young people, they are growing up in cities without any connection to their cultural identity. For me, I was tied to my geography. Cultural values are tied to the land. It’s like an entire way of life was ripped from them. It is hard to be well,” she explained.
Yazzie Asamoa-Tutu likened the experience to post-traumatic stress syndrome or PTSD, the psychological challenge most commonly associated with combat veterans. Her master’s research explored this phenomenon.
So, how does one heal from a disassociation from land, history and culture?
“The elders in our culture talk about healing through tradition and ceremony. Obviously that’s not evidence-based,” she said. “But they cite thousands of years of ‘practice-based evidence,’ and what I try to do is link evidence-based professionalism with how traditional healers did healing.”
Her clients mainly represent three tribes: the Ojibwa, Lakota and Dakota.
Yazzie Asamoa-Tutu reported that this blended approach is having success—much needed since so many Native American families are dealing with trauma and the resulting breakdown in family structures. Her previous work was with fetal alcohol syndrome, one of those heartbreaking evidences of distress.
“One hundred percent of Native Americans are affected by historical and intergenerational trauma,” she said. “Yet we are slowly changing things, breaking bad cycles and seeing holistic healing. It is encouraging to see how spirituality is also being integrated into the process.”
That dream for holistic healing has animated the dream that she and Fidel share of providing a safe place for mental health recovery in Ghana.
“Currently, there’s not much of a mental health structure in Ghana,” she said. “We think the combination of a self-sustaining farm and a place of healing underscores the importance of being close to the land: a communal place, a wellness space.”
For now, Sierra and Fidel—and their little daughter Delali—are living and working where God has placed them. Fidel is a CPA and he does risk consulting for Target corporation.
“But we’re very passionate about our dream,” she said. “We’ve seen how God has pulled things together for us. We see the weaving He is doing in our lives.”