Primary Sources: What Promotes Resilience in Urban Native American Youth?

Photograph of a Native American teen girl.

Resilience Among Urban American Indian Adolescents: Exploration Into the Role of Culture, Self-Esteem, Subjective Well-Being, and Social Support.” (PDF, 447KB). American Indian and Alaska Native Mental Health Research, Vol. 19, No. 2 (2012).

What it’s about: Researchers from the University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University surveyed 196 Native American youth, ages 14-18, in an urban area in the south central United States. The researchers wanted to see what role culture, self-esteem, perceived mental and physical health and well-being, and social support played in fostering the teens' resilience. Young people in the study came from 20 different tribes.

Why read it: Although we know that more Native American young people are growing up in urban areas than in rural ones, a lot of the research we have on Native American health and well-being has focused on people living in reservations. This study aims to fill some of our gaps in knowledge about young Native people who live in cities, where they might get less exposure to native culture than do their peers living on reservations.

Biggest takeaways for youth workers: The authors define resilience as “a dynamic process that enables the individual to respond or adapt under adverse situations.” To measure resilience, they looked at how well the teens were doing in school. Questions on the survey included “Is it important for you to make good grades?” and “Do you put a lot of effort into school?”

Studies of youth on reservations have found that being connected to tribal culture promotes young people's resilience more than anything else. In contrast, this study of urban Native youth found that teens who felt strongly supported by their friends had the highest levels of resilience. In fact, social support was more than four times more influential than culture.

The authors say their finding may be a result of the smaller number of Native American people and resources in metropolitan areas, compared to those in reservations--there just isn’t as much Native Culture in the city to positively influence youth. While they write that further research is needed, the authors also recommend that people who work with Native youth look into the ways they can use both culture and friends to promote Native young people's well-being.

Additional references: Among the tools the researchers used to measure young people's health and well-being were the "Native American Community Health Survey: Youth" and the "Satisfaction With Life Scale."

Our article "NCFY Recommends: Connecting Native American Youth to Their Heritage" lists resources that help young adults embrace their heritage and connect with peers.

(Publications discussed here do not necessarily reflect the views of NCFY, FYSB, or the Administration for Children & Families. Go to the NCFY literature database for abstracts of this and other publications.)

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