MISSOULA — Dr. Gyda Ione Swaney (Salish name pic qwelulew, Little White Butterfly), 67, passed away peacefully surrounded by family in Missoula in the early hours of Thursday July 18, 2019. 

Born August 2, 1951 to Elizabeth Reinertson Swaney and Emory Rogers Swaney, Gyda grew up in Hot Springs. She graduated in 1969 from Hot Springs High School and went on to briefly attend Pacific Union College. She transferred to the University of Montana and started an illustrious career in social science, graduating with her Bachelor’s Degree in Sociology and Psychology, her Master’s in Psychology, her clinical internship at Boston City Hospital/Boston University School of Medicine, and her PhD in Clinical Psychology at the University of Montana – Missoula with a minor in Forensic Psychology in 1997.

Her career brought her home to work with her people as the Clinical Director of the Tribal Mental Health program for the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes for 14 years. Her service to her tribe and tribal community extended further into her professional career as she transitioned into education. From 1999 - 2019, she was an Assistant, then Associate Professor of the Clinical Faculty in the Department of Psychology at the University of Montana.  She managed the Indians into Psychology (InPsych) Program wherein she trained 14 clinical psychologists for Indian country, the Mental Health Career Opportunities Program (MHCOP), and taught multicultural psychology among other courses, as well as conducting research. Gyda was the Montana representative to the American Psychological Association. Her work was nationally recognized by the American Psychological Association in 2012, receiving the Award for Outstanding Achievement to the Montana Psychological Association. In 2017, she was awarded the Charles E. Kelly Memorial Award as Montana Psychologist of the Year by the Montana Psychological Association. For her contribution to her field and to the community she was most recently awarded the 2019 Distinguished Service Award from Salish Kootenai College. Her publications were numerous and her contributions to Native American behavioral health is immeasurable. Throughout her career, she also maintained a small private practice for her ongoing clients. Overall, she worked to help others heal.

Intelligent, with a quick-witted razor-sharp sense of humor, Gyda was always full of life. During holidays, her family challenged her to board games and cards and she readily and gleefully trounced them all, especially in Scrabble and any card game. Her family came first, and she would come to their aid at a moment’s notice. Her kindness and compassion extended beyond her family to her community: she served on several community boards and organizations, including Nkwusm (the Salish Language Immersion School), the YWCA, and the Missoula Urban Indian Health Center.

Gyda Swaney married Jerry Guenther in 1974, with whom she had two daughters and later divorced.  

She is survived by her beloved aunt Janet Germane, siblings — Ellen Swaney, Shawn Swaney, Hjordis Bearchum, daughters — Kristin Guenther (Michael Rowe) and Jodi Guenther (Joel Karki), three grandsons, nieces — Brooke Swaney and Sydney Bearchum, nephew Jacob Bearchum, along with numerous treasured cousins and extended family (Swaney, McDonald, Reinertson, Strombo) and friends.

A traditional wake was held at the Longhouse on Friday, July 19, with Rosary that evening. Services were held to celebrate her life at the St. Ignatius Mission Church on Saturday, July 20, at 10 a.m., followed by a traditional feast at the Longhouse. 

The family encourages donations to any of the above-mentioned organizations. Contributions may also be made to the scholarship established in Gyda’s memory at Salish Kootenai College.

The family especially wants to thank the nurses and staff of Partners in Home Care. We also thank her students and the community members who volunteered at her wake.

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