Mia Klick never thought she’d be making history. As the second-to-last of five children, a high school dropout, and teen parent, she only knew hardship. Her youth was marked by an incarcerated father and a mother struggling to live. To love. She did the best she knew how, but Mia often stepped in as a caretaker for her siblings. All but one. Her sister, 5 years older, was the mother figure that “blazed a trail, not looking ahead, but looking back, so I could follow.”
She barely remembers trips to Canada to spend time with her father’s family, but it’s there that the threads of the Ehattesaht First Nation began to stitch together her identity. As years went by, she connected closely with Tulalip tribal heritage through her mom. Mia is a fixer. A healer. She scraped by, working as a mechanic here and there with other odd repair jobs because fixing things was the next best thing to fixing people. And without a high school diploma, being a counselor or social worker seemed out of reach.
Then she found the Tribal Hub at VOAWW in May 2021. In the position of a Hub Navigator, she could use her own past to offer support and advocacy for other Indigenous people. People who have unique needs in health care, crisis services, and legal recourse. People who are often caught between two cultures without the right support from either one.
That summer, Mia was included in a conversation about the possibility of implementing a comprehensive crisis line for Natives. Tribal communities occasionally have had options for counseling or lifeline services, but often not on a 24-hour basis and only at a local level. Vicki Lowe, Jamestown S’Klallam and Bella Coola descendant and Executive Director at American Indian Health Commission of Washington State, and State Representative Tina Orwall asked what it would take to get this off the ground.
Mia found her calling.
Starting in September as the Native & Strong Lifeline (NSLL) Coordinator, she enlisted the help of the same older sister, the same mother figure who was now working as an Elders Program Manager and social worker with the Stillaguamish Tribe. They knocked on doors, posted flyers, distributed surveys, and analyzed data to determine how best to serve American Indians and Alaska Natives in crisis. With this knowledge, Mia went on to develop a curriculum for Tribal Crisis Counselors by “Indigenizing” the 988 Lifeline Counselor training. For Mia, it wasn’t enough to learn about Native people and their struggles. She knew that counselors had to be Native, and that was the plan all along. Callers do not have to explain their past, their culture, or their trauma for context. So, help and healing begins sooner.
Today, big sister works alongside little sister. Rochelle Williams left her position at the Stillaguamish Tribe to become VOAWW’s Tribal Services Manager in January 2022. She and Mia, with countless supporters, brought the Native and Strong Lifeline (NSLL) into reality, the first of its kind in the United States. In fact, it has never been done on this scale with this level of success in history. It is available 24/7 for any tribal-affiliated person in Washington state, regardless of tribal home or enrollment status. Taking it a step further than offering an 800 number, they petitioned to have it incorporated with 988 and succeeded. Callers can choose option 4.
Rochelle says the work they’ve done exists so that Native people don’t have to remember their loved ones. “…Native and Strong is here to help keep them here with us. With you. And your family. You don’t have to have memories. You get to keep people around and have them over for dinner. Native and Strong is here to save lives.”
Since its rollout in November 2022, Lines for Life in Oregon has called, expressing interest in expanding NSLL into their state. Rochelle has been asked to testify for a bill being written in California’s legislature. Behavioral Health programs in New Mexico and the Navajo Nation have requested meetings. In Canada, Rochelle met with Holly Echo-Hawk, founder of the Reclaiming Native Psychological Brilliance ECHO Program. After her presentation to a crowd of 400, Thunderbird Partnership Foundation asked for insight for adding an Indigenous option at 988, which will roll out in Canada this fall. And, in Montana, Fort Peck Tribes have been moved to open their own crisis line and share it statewide. “People are getting inspired,” Rochelle beams.
Would the Native and Strong Lifeline still exist even without Mia and Rochelle? Probably. Tribal crisis lines have been around. “However,” Rochelle concludes, “I can proudly say that our involvement is what has made this line successful and… catching the attention nationwide and in Canada. We knew that the line had to employ Native people… There is no level of cultural sensitivity training or lessons that can be taught that are ever going to be better than having real, live and Native voices on the other end of the line. That was us.”
Women’s History Month celebrates the contributions of women to the American narrative. And so, the girl who didn’t finish high school, who often felt “less than” because she was female, and who cared for others before caring for herself stands with her sister who continues to authentically serve her Native community, make connections, and guide the way. Together, they are building a history-making program. Together, they are saving Indigenous lives in the place where the story of struggle begins.
How was all this possible? “If people are asking for your advice, it’s because you know more than they do,” Mia asserts. “Now, when I go to meetings, I go in loud. If people are looking to you for your opinion, then it’s valuable to them.” A piece of advice she offers is that “...as a woman, you don’t have to be stronger than men. You just have to be stronger than yourself. Believe that you deserve to be in the conversation.”
Mia Klick is the Native and Strong Lifeline Coordinator at VOAWW. Born and raised in Everett, she still lives there with her family. Rochelle Williams, the Tribal Operations Manager, gets the joy every day of seeing Mia come full circle, blazing her own trail and caring for others.
If you’d like to get in touch, they can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.