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Urban American Indian Elders Resiliency: Sources of Strength for Building a Healthy Future for Today’s Youth. Carmella Kahn-Thornbrugh Agnes Attakai Kerstin Resinschmidt Shannon Whitewater Tara Chico Nolando Neswood Kathryn Foster Nicolette Teufel -Shone. Background.

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Urban American Indian Elders Resiliency: Sources of Strength for Building a Healthy Future for Today’s Youth

Carmella Kahn-Thornbrugh

Agnes Attakai

Kerstin Resinschmidt

Shannon Whitewater

Tara Chico


Kathryn Foster

Nicolette Teufel-Shone

  • Role of American Indian (AI) elders
    • Keepers and transmitters of knowledge (Wexler, 2011)
    • Endured many adversities (Grandbois & Sanders, 2009)
    • Life stories hold life lessons and foundational knowledge to better understand resilience
  • Youth in today’s society
    • Disconnect between elders and youth (Wexler, 2011)
    • Urban AI youth face greater challenges connecting with elders (Stumblingbear-Riddle, 2012)
    • Previous research acknowledges that ties to culture and other variables (i.e. social support) may be protective and lead to resilient outcomes for positive youth development (LaFromboiseet al., 2006; Wexler, 2011)
protective intergenerational strategies
Protective intergenerational strategies
  • Spirituality
  • Tribal identity
  • Elders
  • Ceremonies and rituals
  • Humor
  • Oral tradition
  • Family
  • Support networks

(HeavyRunner and Morris, 1997)

  • What protective strategies can elders offer to enhance resiliency among urban American Indian youth?
methods literature review
Methods: Literature review
  • Medical and Social science databases were surveyed
    • (1) Peer-reviewed English based articles
    • (2) Published from January 1, 1980 to December 31, 2013
    • (3) AIAN and Hawaiian elders as the target population
    • (4) Non-clinical based
    • (5) Key words and terms for American Indian/Alaska Native/Native Hawaiian Resilience
methods pilot research project
Methods: Pilot research project
  • Documenting and Promoting Resilience in Urban American Indians (Co-PIs: Agnes Attakai, Kerstin Reinschmidt)
    • CBPR approach; partnership with Tucson Indian Center
    • Defining resilience from the perspective of urban American Indian elders.
    • Qualitative methods: focus groups and individual interviews with 13 urban American Indian elders
    • Utilized thematic analysis
    • Digital stories and a curriculum for a youth program
results literature review
Results: Literature review
  • Protective factors
      • Resilience
        • Understanding elders resilience
      • Intergenerational relationships
        • Family/community/collective connectedness
      • Culture
        • Storytelling, activities, sense of belonging, sense-making
      • Spirituality
        • Higher power, God
results pilot research project
Results: Pilot Research Project
  • Revealed protective factors for youth related to culture, youth activities, education, spirituality, connecting elders with youth
  • Literature search and qualitative data from elder’s narratives helped identify key resiliency factors uniquely specific for urban AI youth
    • Strengths in knowing history and roots
  • Adults and elders views on culture were different from youth
      • Adults & elders: Culture is a collective experience; draw from intergenerational strengths/ practice; get strength from those who came before; feeling grounded
      • Youth: Culture was related to specific activities/skills; culture is slipping away; had cultural strengths but didn’t know it
  • Oppressive policies have disrupted the relationship between youth and their Elders
  • Strategies for enhancing resilience among youth
    • intergenerational communication (stories about historical trauma and elder resilience)
    • Teach youth how culture can be a sustaining force and how it is linked to strengths (personal to collective) to overcome challenges
  • Appropriate methods: Storytelling and narratives are culturally relevant methods that can be combined in CBPR approaches
  • Future research: Increase funding and opportunities for public health research to explore how culture fosters resilience among urban American Indians
  • Tribal opportunities—self-determination policies (include elders in schools)
thank you
Thank you

Carmella Kahn-Thornbrugh

[email protected]

This work was supported by the Center for American Indian Resilience (CAIR) a NIH-NIMHD P20 Exploratory Center of Excellence (1P20MD006872) awarded to Northern Arizona University with subcontracts to University of Arizona and Dine College

  • Gandbois, D. M., & Sanders, G. F. (2009). The resilience of Native American elders. Issues in Mental Health Nursing, 30, 569-580.
  • HeavyRunner, I., & Morris, J. S. (1997). Traditional Native culture and resilience. CAREI Research/Practice Newsletter, 5(1).
  • LaFromboise, T. D., Hoyt, D. R., Oliver, L., & Whitbeck, L. B. (2006). Family, community, and school influences on resilience among American Indian adolescents in the upper midwest. Journal of Community Psychology, 34(2), 193-209.
  • Stumblingbear-Riddle, G., & Romans, J. S. C. (2012). Resilience among urban American Indian adolescents: Exploration into the role of culture, self-esteem, subjective well-being, and social support. American Indian and Alaska Mental Health Research, 19(2), 1-19.
  • Wexler, L. (2011). Intergenerational dialogue exchange and action: Introducing a community-based participatory approach to connect youth, adults and elders in an Alaskan Native community. International Journal of Qualitative Methods, 10(3), 248-264.