Q&A: Meet Sarita McGowan, a force of healing and hope

Sarita McGowan

Informed by her recovery journey and her deep awareness of Native American cultural spiritual principles, Sarita McGowan recognizes the common humanity, pain and resilience within her patients. A member of the Ioway Tribe of Kansas and Nebraska, Sarita is a counselor who serves patients at the Betty Ford Center in Rancho Mirage. She brings to that role prior experience working within the California Department of Corrections as a chaplain supporting both Native Americans and transgender people; and at the Urban Indian Health Center in L.A., serving a population mostly unhoused and living with the impact of jarring health disparities and generational trauma.

Sarita emphasizes the need to bring a culturally specific knowledge and sensitivity to treating patients, especially those of Native American heritage. As NPR noted, “Studies suggest that high rates of addiction in Indian Country stem from the violence and cultural destruction brought down upon Natives over the past 200 years. Because both trauma and resilience are remembered in our DNA, the genocide and forced removal of … tribes from their homelands by the U.S. government during the early 19th century has resulted in generational trauma.”

Q: What does it mean for you to share your recovery story with others?
As someone who understands what addiction can do to a life and family, and has seen and experienced the miracles that can happen when someone gets sober, I feel it’s important to share my story at every opportunity whenever clinically appropriate. I share it for those who feel they can’t look in the mirror and for those who think there is no way out. We never know when our stories might help another human being live.

Sarita McGowan poses in full regalia for a photo used in a museum brochure
Outside of Sarita’s day-to-day work, she pursues her doctorate in Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and guest lectures for grad programs. She also has served as Head Woman at powwows and has been rendered animated in full Ioway regalia for an installation in the American Museum of Britain in Bath, England.

Q: How is your heritage interwoven with your recovery experience?
My Native American culture is especially important to me. It gives me an outlook on the Four Directions [in the Medicine Wheel], without which we could not move forward. Each of the colors represent the directions: the West is black, the red is for the North, yellow for the East, and white for the South. Each of these directions have virtues that I hold at the forefront when working with patients in recovery.

Also in the Medicine Wheel are the four colors of humanity, which represent the diversity of people: there are no races — only the human race.

You don’t have to be Native American to address spirituality, to have a connection to the land, the air.

Q: What do you wish the whole world understood about recovery?
Addiction does not care what color we are. It does not discriminate. Anyone can be addicted, and anyone can recover! There are amazing human beings in recovery!




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