Urban American Indian Elders
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Carmella Kahn-Thornbrugh Agnes Attakai Kerstin Resinschmidt Shannon Whitewater Tara Chico - PowerPoint PPT Presentation

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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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Carmella kahn thornbrugh agnes attakai kerstin resinschmidt shannon whitewater tara chico
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

  • Recommendations

    • 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


    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.