|December 20, 2012
Joe Pablo lauded at staff gathering in his honor
By B.L. Azure
THHS Public Information Officer
Joe Pablo, who has terminal cancer, shared stories and professional and personal insights with fellow THHS Behavioral Health program employees at a luncheon in his honor last Thursday. (B.L. Azure photo)
NINEPIPES — In an emotional charged gathering recently at the Ninepipes Lodge, the Tribal Health and Human Services director and Behavioral Health staff gathered to laud one of their own, Joe Pablo.
Pablo, the 62-year-old on-call clinical social worker for Behavioral Health Division, has been battling lung cancer for a couple of years and had been cancer free for a bit of time. However, about a year ago the lung cancer came back and recently he was told that the cancer had spread to other parts of his body including a tumor in his brain. About three weeks ago he received the dire news that he had four to six weeks of life remaining.
It was a somber occasion but Pablo helped lift the solemn cloak with his strength of spirit.
“I was thinking last night what kind of gift to get Joe,” said THHS Behavioral Health Division manager Kim Azure, who said afterwards Pablo was a unique person grounded in the tribal culture that is able to navigate in two worlds competently. He was an inspirational person, she said to her and her staff. “There is just not a gift we can give you that expresses our appreciation for all you have given us.”
“Joe is the little boy from Arlee, Montana who became a world champion,” said psychologist Duff Garrish in reference to the world bench press championship he won for his age and weight class group at the World Association of Benchers and Dead-Lifters 2011 world championship competition at Las Vegas. In the process, the then 61-year-old Pablo set world records. Shortly after that he discovered that the lung cancer had returned. Pablo didn’t let that dampen his spirits. Despite his rapidly declining health he recently returned to Las Vegas for the 2012 WABDL world championships where he was specially honored by fellow weight lifters. Shortly after his return he learned the news about the short amount of time he has left in this time and place.
Melinda Pablo offers a hand of support for Joe while he shared his philosophy on life, and Indian culture and traditions. (B.L. Azure photo)
“We are indebted to you for what you brought to Tribal Health and what you leave us,” THHS Director Kevin Howlett told Pablo. “We will carry on with the strong foundation that you are forever a part of.”
Through the years Pablo has worked off and on at THHS.
“All of you guys have made this last stay here at Tribal Health really enjoyable,” Pablo told his colleagues, adding that the on-call position he occupies is very important to dealing with the hectic nature of helping people traverse their emotional high-centers that can occur at any time of any given day.
“When I came home in 1988 things didn’t always go as I planned,” said Steve Buffalo, dependency counselor. “No one was practicing the cultural things the way I remembered them. I started to sweat with Joe; he was there to support me. I found a beautiful home with him and Melinda (Joe’s wife of 23 years). Those are the things — the support — that I will never forget. He truly believed people with the tribal cultural background gave more to this tribe than anyone else.”
Buffalo said that even though Pablo and he hadn’t always seen eye-to-eye on many things through the years he had developed the utmost respect for Joe.
“You have played a major role in making my life better,” Buffalo told Joe. “I am a better person because of you. I love you very, very much and I thank you for what you have given me and for what you have given back to the community.”
Joe Pablo shared stories at the expense of some of his fellow THHS Behavioral Health Program employees that included psychologists Stacey Miller and Michael Scollati. (B.L. Azure photo)
In assessing his life’s situation, Pablo said he doesn’t question the cards he has been dealt. He said disagreements among people are natural and are good learning experiences. He praised one of his mentors, Johnny Arlee for all he has shared culturally with him and others. He also praised Indian people.
“Indians in this country are beautiful people. We are all different and we are all survivors,” Pablo said. “That’s what I have tried to do, survive. That makes us powerful, survival against the odds we encountered have made us strong. That’s why we haven’t gone away. Our elders have survived, our ancestors have survived; we have survived because of the work they have done. Never ever forget that we are still here because of them.”
He also gave thanks for being allowed to do his job his way.
“I want to thank you for letting me do my job the way I wanted to do it,” Pablo told his colleagues. “I did it the best way I could.”
Doing his best helped ease the pangs of doubt on one of his newer colleagues.
There were a lot of hugs for Joe Pablo at the luncheon in his honor. (B.L. Azure photo)
“When I first came here, I felt like I didn’t belong here,” said Shirley Butler, child and adolescent therapist. She said that although she was a tribal descendent she wasn’t raised in a traditional household and that made her question her ability to properly related to tribal clients. “I talked to Joe about how I was feeling. He told me that I belonged here, that I was needed here. That was so perfect, so right for how I was feeling. I really didn’t feel I belonged here until then.”
Pablo said Indian people regardless of immersion in traditional ways are part of the Indian community.
“I always tell people that if you’re a descendent of this tribe you are a member of this tribe either by tradition or culture,” Pablo said. “There is a difference that people don’t understand. Traditional people do thing specific to the tribe. Not all tribal people do that. But we all are Indian people because of our cultural identity. We have a shared history. We tribal people are all a part of that. Because of that we are more alike than we are different.”
In the final sum of the day, it was Pablo armed with his strength of spirit and belief in the positive attributes of the tribal traditions and culture that provided those present a shoulder and staff to lean on.
Joe has seven children: Vince, Joe, Jr. aka “Barney”, Ike, Matt, Michelle, Gail and Margaret. He is also blessed with a loving wife, Melinda, 20 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
May your journey to the next life be smooth. The ancestors are waiting to welcome you home.