To American Indians, resilience as a response to trauma is not new. They have survived forced removal from homelands, genocide, the imposition of a reservation system, mandated boarding schools, forced adoption programs, and discriminatory practices against their cultural traditions, religions, and languages. Such prolonged exposure to negative factors has resulted in a long-term cycle of historical trauma. Brave Heart (1999) describes historical trauma response as "a constellation of characteristics associated with massive cumulative group trauma across generations." These characteristics may include elevated mortality and morbidity associated with such health problems as heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, alcohol abuse, and suicidal behavior. The goal of this proposed pilot study is to document and disseminate resilience strategies to cope with historical trauma. This study differs from previous investigations of historical trauma among American Indians in that it: (1) focuses on resiliency and historical trauma from the perspective of elders. (2) views resiliency as a potential adaptive process rather than a set of fixed attributes and (3) focuses on protective factors and strengths of urban American Indian cultures rather than deficiencies in the context of historical trauma. The proposed community based participatory research (CBPR) will build on a five-year partnership with the Tucson Indian Center (TIC). The Center serves a culturally heterogeneous Native urban community and has actively participated in CBPR with the University of Arizona. We hypothesize that collecting and disseminating stories of resilience from American Indian elders is an effective way to promote health and protective factors over the lifespan.
The aims of the proposed project are as follows: (1) To identify resilience strategies through gathering urban American Indian Elders'life narratives; (2) With elders, Advisory Board, and TIC staff, to collaboratively design a series of 12 bi-monthly workshops on historical trauma, resilience and adaptive strategies for urban American Indians;(3) To implement and evaluate the 12 bi-monthly workshop series. The expected outcome is a culturally appropriate health promotion model focused on resiliency and protective factors that can be tested for efficacy in the next.

Public Health Relevance

Resilience has become an important concept in human development and mental health research and practice over the past two decades. In the proposed project, the experiences of individuals who display resilient adaptations will be used to identify protective factors i.e., assets such as coping skills and resources such as social support networks, and those factors can be later incorporated in the development of culturally appropriate health promotion programs that foster resilience.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD)
Exploratory Grants (P20)
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Special Emphasis Panel (ZMD1-RN)
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Northern Arizona University
United States
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