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Cultural Identity Protects Youth

Numerous studies underscore a connection between Indigenous young people’s well-being and their identification. Scholarly articles with American Indian youth have demonstrated that purposelessness can lead to poor mental health outcomes such as depression, self-absorption, addictions, destructive behavior, and difficulties with interpersonal relations (Damon et al., 2003). Bjerregaard (2001) linked rapid socio-cultural change in the arctic to poor mental health outcomes; Duran & Duran (1995) connected historical trauma to substance abuse and violence.

American Indian people have established perceived discrimination as a primary risk factor for young people, enculturation has been found to be protective, especially in the face of race-related prejudice (LaFromboise et al., 2006). Researchers have often considered the role of culture in supporting and facilitating resilience for Indigenous people facing a variety of risks (Adelson, 2000; Montgomery, Miville, Winterowd, Jeffries, & Baysden, 2000; Roberts & Holmes, 1999; Whitbeck, Hoyt, Stubben, & LaFromboise, 2001). A strong sense of cultural identity has been correlated with higher levels of psychological health for Indigenous youth (Kral & Dyck, 1995; McCabe, 2007; Whitbeck, Chen, Hoyt, & Adams, 2004)

Having a positive cultural identity is believed to confer feelings of self-worth, self-efficacy, connectedness, and purpose to Indigenous young people (Minore, Boone, Katt, & Kinch, 1991; Tatz, 2001; White, 2000). These attributes have been identified as protective factors for suicide (Borowsky, Ireland, & Resnik, 2001; Felner, Dubois, & Adan, 1991). One research team documented a clear link between communities’ cultural and political activities, dubbed ‘‘cultural continuity’’, and their rates of suicide (Chandler and Lalonde, 1998). Tribal communities that had more tribal activism and cultural opportunities also had extremely low suicide rates. The converse was also true, where villages without the opportunity for cultural and/or political engagement had correspondingly high suicide rates (Wexler, DiFluvio, & Burke, 2009).

IINII uses a revolutionary Design Thinking process to help your school community gain an understanding of one’s sense of self, as well as developing an understanding of students’ and parents’ values; having an understanding of one’s values matters because research has shown that it is linked to better well-being, less stress, and increased confidence in one’s ability to succeed.

Understanding students’ values can be developed with culturally sustaining practices that reflect a student’s identity and experience. Particularly helpful is focusing efforts on cultural competence and relevance and providing opportunities for students to practice bridging differences between diverse identities in a safe environment. To learn how you can create a dynamic youth-centered environment that honors the unique values of your students and parents, visit our website at, or contact us at or 1800-507-2502.

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