It is important to recognize that cultural customs among AI/AN groups may vary significantly, even within a single community. Some reservations are home to multiple bands or tribes due to federal policies, which voluntarily or forcibly relocated bands, and tribes. Thus, within and amongst reservations, cultural differences exist, including language, food, modes of interaction, and spiritual belief systems, among others. However, a strong sense of spirituality (traditional or Christian) is common among AI/AN groups and often forms a sense of group unity.1
AI/AN cultures often emphasize a balance across physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual aspects of health.2 Additionally, the extended family is commonly considered as a part of the central family and contributes to the AI/AN community aspect of focusing on the collective group rather than just on the individual.3 The gradual introduction and infusion of Western habits and technology has changed some traditions and roles in these communities, which has prompted efforts to identify how traditional and Western ways of life can coexist and promote healthy behaviors among AI/AN youth.4
Preserving spirituality and a sense of unity is important to youth well-being. The right to one’s own culture and religion is reported to be one of many youth well-being indicators.5 Successful approaches to working with AI/AN youth in prevention and intervention efforts include preserving traditions and traditional family and community values and maintaining programs that focus on addressing negative risk factors and strengthening protective factors, including access to services and supports.
Incorporating traditional AI/AN values and insights into positive youth development efforts has been accomplished through connecting with native communities before programs are developed and while they are being implemented.
The People Awakening Resilience Project (PDF, 16 pages), led by a collaborative team of Alaska community members and researchers at the University of Alaska, initially wanted to change the dialogue around alcoholism to also include sobriety. The project did this by studying “…the life stories of Alaska Natives living a life of sobriety” to better understand pathways to healthy behavior and by learning from those who have recovered from alcoholism. Organizers observed protective factors on multiple levels, including the individual (e.g., youth establishing life goals, support from family and neighbors), family and community (e.g., protective figures preventing exposure to trauma), and social environmental (e.g., sobriety role models, sober peer influences).6
20 Years of Language Project Funding for Native American Communities
This blog by Lillian Sparks Robinson, Commissioner for the Administration for Native Americans (ANA), discusses ANA’s efforts to preserve Native American languages by teaching Native American youth their Native languages.
2014 Native Language Project Compendium (PDF 142 pages)
This compendium shares ANA language project reports organized by state from 2010-2012 as a way to demonstrate the breadth and diversity of language activities funded under the Native Languages program area.
ANA Youth Development Project Compendium (PDF 105 pages)
Since 2009, 107 ANA projects have had a strong youth development component, and site visits have been made to 64 of them. Of these, 44 projects were chosen to be highlighted because of their strong impact on Native Youth. The compendium, published in July 2015, is listed as a resource on the ANA website for future applicants and other interested audiences.
Culture Card: A Guide to Build Cultural Awareness of American Indian and Alaska Native (PDF, 4 pages)
This resource serves as a guide to enhance cultural competence for service providers working in AI/AN communities.
Native American Children and Youth Well-Being: A Strengths Perspective (PDF, 58 pages)
This paper builds upon ongoing research on well-being indicators for Native American children and youth, tribal strengths that can influence the program development based on assets, and strengths-based practices.
National American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month
Each year November is dedicated to celebrating the AI/AN heritage in the United States. This resource highlights special events, art, and resources for teachers to learn more about Native American Heritage Month.
Protecting Our Sacred Ones
This blog by Lillian Sparks Robinson, ANA Commissioner, discusses efforts to prioritize and protect Native American youth in policymaking.
We R Native
We R Native is a comprehensive health resource for Native youth, by Native youth. We R Native strives to promote holistic health and positive growth in local communities and nationwide.
1 Culture Care: A Guide to Build Cultural Awareness of American Indian and Alaska Native, 2009
2 Poonwassie & Charter, 2001; Kenyon & Hanson, 2012
3 Sarche & Spicer, 2008; Sutton & Broken Nose, 1996
4 Ayunerak, Alstrom, Moses, Charlie Sr., & Rasmus, 2014
5 Native American Children and Youth Well-Being: A Strengths Perspective, 2002
6 The People Awakening Project, 2004; National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, n.d.
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