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Cultural Values Protect Native Youth

Research with Native Americans has identified connectedness as a culturally based protective factor against substance abuse and suicide. Connectedness refers to the interrelated welfare of the individual, one’s family, one’s community, and the natural environment. Alcantara and Gone (2007) reported mixed results between connection with cultural practices and suicidality, but concluded that cultural continuity remains a useful construct in understanding native youth suicide. Bates, Beauvais, and Trimble (1997) were unable to identify a direct relationship between native cultural identification and substance use, but pointed out that culture communicates values, beliefs, and norms, whether positive or negative. They recommended that substance use prevention programs for Native American youth focus on building youth’s relationship to cultural values and traditions that promote positive behavior.

Native American adolescents experience some of the highest substance abuse rates in the country (Hawkins, Cummins, & Marlatt, 2004) and suicide rates nearly twice as high as the national average (Alcantara & Gone, 2007). Hawkins et al. (2004) link the heightened risk for substance abuse in Native American youth to cultural dislocation, acculturative stress, and alienation. Duran (2006) indicates that historical and present day trauma has ruptured the physical, mental, and spiritual relationships be- tween people and their holistic life-world. Duran suggests this trauma manifests in behavioral health issues such as family violence, suicide, and depression, as well as in dysfunction in community-based support systems. Duran emphasizes the need to construct a sociocultural narrative that is grounded in the native life-world. Such a narrative would rebuild awareness of connections between people and their culture, community, and life-world.

Many scholars have more broadly identified cultural identity and enculturation as protective factors for native youth (Oetting & Beauvais, 1990; Lafromboise, Hoyt, Oliver, & Whitbeck, 2006; Whitbeck, McMorris, Hoyt, Stubben, & Laframboise, 2002). However, Hawkins et al. (2004) reported that cultural identity and engagement research among native youth has produced mixed results in terms of identifying engagement in traditional cultural practices as protective against substance use. Chandler, Lalonde, Sokol, and Hallett (2003) demonstrated how cultural continuity, the degree to which a culture preserves a sense of identity and meaningfulness from the past through to the present and a foreseeable future, is inversely related to suicide rates in Native American communities. Identity and enculturation encompass cultural values and participation without distinguishing the values and world views endorsed by the culture that are most salient in health, resiliency, and well-being.

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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