November is National Native American Heritage Month. During this time, we celebrate and pay tribute to the rich ancestry and traditions of Native Americans and Alaskan Natives. We also shine a spotlight on some of the unique needs of their communities and some of the health disparities they face. Health outcomes for these communities are worse than the larger U.S. population in many ways. Whether it is from a higher rate of unintentional injuries, suicide or chronic liver disease, the life expectancy of American Indian and Alaskan Natives is five and a half years less than the larger U.S. population. SAMHSA is partnering with tribes and tribal organizations to reduce health disparities and promote better overall health.
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As Native American Heritage month comes to a close, I’ve been reflecting on the tremendous work American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) tribes have done to improve the quality of life for tribal youth, families, and communities.All people have biological and psychological characteristics that make them vulnerable to, or resilient in the face of, potential behavioral health issues. Effective prevention strategies focus on identifying these characteristics, reducing the risk factors, and strengthening protective factors.
The Impact of Historical and Intergenerational Trauma on American Indian and Alaska Native Communities
Trauma not only effects those who directly experience it, but also those in the generations that follow. Dr. Maria Yellow Horse Brave Heart describes historical trauma as the “cumulative emotional and psychological wounding across generations, including the lifespan, which emanates from massive group trauma.”
The span of one generation is not a long time. In fact, an American Indian or Alaska Native (AI/AN) who is over the age of 30 is only one generation removed from the “boarding school era.” During this era, many AI/AN children were removed from their homes, families, and communities and forced to assimilate to the culture and practices of the majority population. These experiences caused a ripple effect of intergenerational trauma throughout Indian Country.
Generation Indigenous, or Gen-I, as it is known in Indian Country, is an initiative aimed at improving the lives of Native youth by removing the barriers standing between them and their opportunity to success. Introduced by President Obama at the Tribal Nations Conference in December 2014, Gen-I was inspired by the President’s visit to the Standing Rock Sioux Indian Nation the previous June.