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Indigenous Cultural Protective Factors

Gone (2009) raises culture and community as cornerstone considerations when conducting research or interventions in Native American communities, with particular attention to the diversity of cultural world views represented within this broad population. Duran (2006) further recommends transcendence of notions such as “cross-cultural” and “cultural sensitivity” by identification and validation of the epistemology or “life-world” of the people with whom we are working (p. 14). Mohatt, Hazel, et al. (2004) and Mohatt et al. (2007) describe how community-based participatory research (CBPR) with Alaska Native (AN) peoples has led to important insights into the resiliency and strengths of AN cultures, such as culture-specific ways of thinking about alcohol use, sobriety, and recovery from substance abuse, as well as ways of framing and understanding the relationships between the individual, community, and holistic wellness.


Culturally grounded protective factors are important for study precisely because the history of colonization has disrupted the connections to traditional values among Native American cultures. Durkheim (as cited in Hill, 2009) describes how colonization leads to a disruption of life and cultural systems, which, in turn, leads to increased suicide risk. Today, 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 between 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.


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 www.iinii.org, or contact us at iinii@iinii.org or 1800-507-2502.



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