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MSU Profiles

Psychology graduate returns to help her people

As Tami Jollie-Trottier experienced a giddy upward climb in her research career, she could never quite escape the gravitational pull of home.

Jollie-Trottier currently serves as a clinical psychologist in her hometown of Belcourt, working to upgrade the health of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa. She rejected the research world’s siren song so she could return to her home reservation.

Her meteoric career began at Minot State, where she earned a Bachelor of Science in Psychology in 1999. Paul Markel, her mentor, stressed undergraduate research as a key steppingstone to a top-tier graduate program.

"Dr. Markel gave me my start in the world of research," she said. "He was really supportive of me as a native student."

Jollie-Trottier also found encouragement at MSU’s Native American Cultural Center, under the direction of the late Wylie Hammond.

"That was my home base at MSU," she said of the center. "(Hammond) was always encouraging us to keep going."

The psychology student was active in the Native American Cultural Awareness Club, which sponsors a Native American Awareness Week in the fall and an Honor Dance and Powwow Celebration in the spring.

"All year we worked toward the annual powwow," she said. "That helped us develop identity. We took a lot of pride in that."

As she was about to graduate, Jollie-Trottier felt she had to take one more step.

"I wanted to get in touch with my native identity; I wanted to get a name," she said, noting that she received the sacred name "Red Wind Woman."

"Your name helps guide what you do in your life," she said. "I’m responsible for praying for my people, focusing on healing and helping."

After she left Minot State, Jollie-Trottier went on to earn a doctorate in clinical psychology from the University of North Dakota in 2005. She then completed a two-year fellowship in health psychology at the UND School of Medicine and one year of specialty training at the Eating Disorder and Neuropsychiatric Research Institute in Fargo.

Her career horizon in the research world was wide and limitless, but, in the end, the tug of the reservation was overpowering.

"It was the right time for me to come home to work with my people," she said.

In 2008, Jollie-Trottier began providing clinical services at the Behavioral Health Clinic in Belcourt. The town is the hub of the Turtle Mountain Reservation, home to 13,000 tribal citizens. Members also live in the surrounding communities of Dunseith, St. John, Rolette and Rolla.

She encounters two problems in the Native American community that are growing at a worrying pace — obesity and Type 2 diabetes. The former is a deeply personal issue for the clinician.

"I experienced childhood obesity for about three years," she said, noting that she wasn’t alone. "The rate of obesity is approaching 50 percent for children in Indian Country." The statistics across the native population are disturbing. Thirty-three percent of all American Indians are obese, and half of Indian women are overweight.

Several factors contribute to the problem, the psychologist said, including genetic predisposition, excess of processed foods and scarcity of grocery stores offering healthy foods.

Jollie-Trottier said unchecked obesity can be a precursor of a more serious malady.

"It’s correlated with the development of Type 2 diabetes," she said. "It’s not uncommon to know somebody or have a family member with diabetes in Indian communities."

Type 2 diabetes often leads to long-term complications, such as heart disease, stroke, kidney failure and amputation.

To confront the scourge of obesity, Jollie-Trottier conducts a 12-week weight-management program in Belcourt.

"It’s a medical diagnosis, but there’s a behavioral component to it," she said.

She also cofounded the Medicine Moon Run, a half marathon, eight years ago. The event also includes 5K, 10K and kids’ runs. Between 150 and 200 runners participate in the event annually.

"It’s growing each year," she said of the event. "We’re trying to keep people working toward becoming healthier."

With her research background, the clinician also serves on the advisory board of the Tribal Nations Research Group, which investigates issues relevant to the native population. Current subjects include the oil industry’s impact on sexual violence, smoke-free casinos, and breast cancer risk factors among Native American women.

For her fierce loyalty to her people, Jollie-Trottier received the MSU Alumni Association’s Young Alumni Achievement Award in 2015.

"I’m trying to be a leader, enhancing my identity of being a native woman," she said.

She credits her parents, Dave and Phyllis Jollie, for her achievements to date. They returned to the Turtle Mountain Reservation in 1978 to operate a grocery story.

"They taught me about giving back to our community," she said. "They’re the biggest inspirations in my life. I’m so grateful that I was raised on the reservation."

Jollie-Trottier hopes to continue the tradition with the next generation, beginning with her own children. She and her husband, Ron Trottier Jr., have three children — Aiyana, 14, Asher, 7, and Autumn, 5.

"We wanted our children to be raised on the reservation," she said. "That’s the main reason my husband and I decided to move home."

Jollie-Trottier burns with conviction about her return to her roots.

"This is where I need to be," she said. "I want to work with natives, not on natives. We’re starting to heal ourselves."