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Indigenous Centered Practices Enhance Self-Esteem

Updated: Sep 12, 2019

Many scholars have learned that using Indigenous centered teaching practices result in Native students who have enhanced self-esteem (Agbo, 2004; Cleary & Peacock, 1998), have a healthier understanding of their identity (Trujillo, Viri, & Figueira, 2002), are more self-directed (Garcia & Ahler, 1992), are more respectful of tribal elders (Agbo, 2004), have a positive influence in their tribal communities (Cleary & Peacock, 1998; Pewewardy, 1998; U.S. Department of Education, 2001), exhibit more positive classroom behavior and engagement (Cleary & Peacock, 1998; Lipka, 1990), and have higher levels of academic achievement (Apthorp, D’Amato, & Richardson, 2002; Demmert, 2001; Demmert & Towner, 2003; Klump & McNeir, 2005; Smith, Leake, & Kamekona, 1998; Swisher & Tippeconnic, 1999; Zwick & Miller, 1996).

Hodge, Limb, & Cross (2009) linked colonization to mental health within Indigenous communities and suggested abandoning Western mental health remedies in exchange for healing processes that rely on Indigenous knowledge foundations. Some studies contend that traditional cultural practices that use cultural values to heal intergenerational trauma may help American Indian students reduce suicidal thoughts (Hill 2009; Yurkovich, Hopkins, & Rieke, 2012), and suicidal ideation may be reduced by participating in spiritual activities (Garroutte et al., 2003).

Wexler et al., (2016) claim that American Indians suffer from lack of culturally appropriate mental-health interventions, and argue for the development of partnerships stating “Collaborations between researchers and Indigenous communities potentially allow for the research itself to be an emancipatory process that enables community members to identify and frame issues important to their community and to develop solutions that reflect community priorities” (p. 894).

IINII uses a revolutionary Design Thinking process to help your mental health organization or school community gain an understanding of one’s sense of self, as well as developing an understanding of students’ 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, visit our website at, or contact us at or 1800-507-2502.

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