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Regina Ertz focuses career on serving Indian Country

Citizen Potawatomi Nation’s Behavioral Health Department hired psychologist Regina S. Ertz in September 2018. Certifications and degrees line the wall behind her desk, and children’s toys and books clutter the floor and fill the shelves on the side of the room where she sees patients. Dr. Ertz graduated with her doctorate of psychology in August 2017 and became licensed the same month she began seeing patients at the Tribe.

“I’ve definitely grown a lot, and I think CPN really allowed me for that growth,” Dr. Ertz said. “And it’s been really nice in that way that I think I’ve gotten a lot farther in one year than others have, just because of the opportunities and growth that have been allowed to me while working here.”

Although psychologist Regina S. Ertz, Ph.D., specializes in child psychology, she sees patients across the lifespan at Citizen Potawatomi Nation’s Behavioral Health facility.

A member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, her cultural and family connections run deep. She grew up in rural Box Elder, South Dakota, and her father is a psychologist as well. Watching him serve other people during her childhood influenced Dr. Ertz’s decision to choose that field of study.

“Really it was just a big interest of mine, and it was something that inadvertently he kind of primed me to be like that in some ways growing up,” she said. “And so it just kind of felt natural.”

From the beginning, she intended to serve other Native people. That desire stayed strong throughout college as she remembered the unmet needs she saw on reservation lands that surrounded her hometown.

“Working with Native people, it’s been a goal. Just the whole strive of getting licensed and being able to provide services to an underserved population, and just being part of that culture myself is a connection that I have,” she said.

After she graduated from the University of North Dakota, Dr. Ertz accepted an internship with the University of Oklahoma Health Services – Child Study Center. She moved to Oklahoma in the summer of 2016, despite never having traveled south of Nebraska, and ended up staying for her residency too. Dr. Ertz specializes in child psychology, one of the few CPN professionals with those credentials. However, when she began her doctorate, that focus was not her intention.

“Throughout our graduate training, there was a clinic that we had on (the UND) campus, and we were just assigned patients, and part of it was to expose ourselves to different dynamics, different backgrounds of people, different ages and things like that,” she said. “And then, I don’t know how it happened, but all of a sudden, I just had all kids. And I started getting connected with more and more people who were specialized with children, and I realized that it’s just something that connected, and I fit.”

Dr. Ertz’s certifications include Parent Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT) and Trauma-Focused Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT), as well as the American Indian cultural enhancement of that treatment, Honoring Children-Mending the Circle (HCMC). She also treats children ages 3 to 18 who engage in problematic sexual behaviors. As a psychologist treating American Indian patients, she believes staying involved and aware of cultural traditions adds to her ability to relate and care for her patients.

“I don’t think there is such a thing as being a true, culturally competent psychologist. I think it’s something that we’re forever growing and working with,” Dr. Ertz said. “The more you work with that population, the more you’re going to learn and the better you’re going to be able to do.”

She occasionally recommends resources for those looking to connect with their tribe, and Dr. Ertz wanted to be a part of a Native community through her career. During her time as an employee, she has noticed CPN’s community outreach and way the Nation encourages its members.

“Potawatomi themselves, I’ve really seen, there’s a big strive and push to keep advancing, to keep growing, and I think that’s undervalued in a lot of other places,” she said.

“It’s growing, even though it may not be as obvious when you first kind of talk to people and things like that. There’s a lot more going on than meets the eye.”

Roping in a family

Team roping became a big part of her life as a child, and she decided to stay in Oklahoma following her residency after meeting her husband at a rodeo event. As she puts it, “The story wrote itself.” They continue to rope at events around Shawnee, Oklahoma, and own four horses on their property, including Sunny, who she rode while she learned.

“He was my child before my child. I grew up rodeoing on him. He’s retired now, so he just hangs out in the pasture,” she said.

“It was a way of life. And we still roped in the winter, and it would be zero degrees outside, and we’d be in the barn with no heat and overalls and coats and jackets and gloves. You just did what you had to do.”

Dr. Ertz said Oklahoma feels like home after three years, but she misses things about South Dakota, especially the cold winters and the plains.

“From where I’m from, you can look, and you can see literally 50 miles in front of you, and it’s just straight prairie,” she said. “And so to me, it’s just strange when we’re driving and I can’t see 10 miles in front of us. I’m used to the flat, no-tree land.”

In addition to riding, Dr. Ertz also began teaching herself how to bead at 14 years old from a couple of books. She makes beautiful earrings and other jewelry, much of which she wears herself. Ertz always felt close to her Sioux heritage throughout her life, and beading helped her establish new relationships.

“Over the years, I just connected with people, and they showed me different little tricks and how to do certain things, and trial and error got me where I am today,” Dr. Ertz said.

As her skills progress, she plans to attempt beading regalia pieces and moccasins, mostly for her young son, Chasen.

Dr. Ertz looks forward to progressing culturally and professionally as well as seeing behavioral health services at CPN expand.

“It just improves our ability to provide better services to people who come and see us,” she said. “And so no matter how small your issue is, it matters. It’s important, and if you’re having a hard time, this is the place to come because we will be able to provide you with an overall, round care of the things that you need.”

Find more information about CPN’s Behavioral Health Services at cpn.news/bh.