Other Youth Topics

Cultural Considerations

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


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.

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.

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.

Your Money Your Goals: Focus on Native Communities
This companion guide to the Your Money, Your Goals financial empowerment toolkit provides cultural context for financial empowerment programming and specific tools tailored to the unique needs of native communities.


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.

Other Resources on this Topic


Youth Briefs

How Individualized Education Program (IEP) Transition Planning Makes a Difference for Youth with Disabilities

Youth who receive special education services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA 2004) and especially young adults of transition age, should be involved in planning for life after high school as early as possible and no later than age 16. Transition services should stem from the individual youth’s needs and strengths, ensuring that planning takes into account his or her interests, preferences, and desires for the future.

Youth Transitioning to Adulthood: How Holding Early Leadership Positions Can Make a Difference

Research links early leadership with increased self-efficacy and suggests that leadership can help youth to develop decision making and interpersonal skills that support successes in the workforce and adulthood. In addition, young leaders tend to be more involved in their communities, and have lower dropout rates than their peers. Youth leaders also show considerable benefits for their communities, providing valuable insight into the needs and interests of young people

How Trained Service Professionals and Self-Advocacy Makes a Difference for Youth with Mental Health, Substance Abuse, or Co-occurring Issues

Statistics reflecting the number of youth suffering from mental health, substance abuse, and co-occurring disorders highlight the necessity for schools, families, support staff, and communities to work together to develop targeted, coordinated, and comprehensive transition plans for young people with a history of mental health needs and/or substance abuse.

Young Adults Formerly in Foster Care: Challenges and Solutions

Nearly 30,000 youth aged out of foster care in Fiscal Year 2009, which represents nine percent of the young people involved in the foster care system that year. This transition can be challenging for youth, especially youth who have grown up in the child welfare system.

Coordinating Systems to Support Transition Age Youth with Mental Health Needs

Research has demonstrated that as many as one in five children/youth have a diagnosable mental health disorder. Read about how coordination between public service agencies can improve treatment for these youth.

Civic Engagement Strategies for Transition Age Youth

Civic engagement has the potential to empower young adults, increase their self-determination, and give them the skills and self-confidence they need to enter the workforce. Read about one youth’s experience in AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC).