Jodi Barnett, project manager for ISER’s Center for Behavioral Health Research & Services, is lead author of a new paper in Health Promotion Practice discussing the important role that Alaska youth culture camps have in locally driven and multilevel suicide prevention.

Suicide, linked to cultural disruptions and historical trauma, is a significant health disparity among Alaska Native youth. Many Indigenous suicide prevention efforts center on revitalizing and connecting youth with their culture to promote mental health and resilience. A commonly used cultural approach in rural Alaska are youth culture camps. However, it is only recently that researchers have tested culture camps’ association with improved psychosocial outcomes for the youth who attend.

Barnett, and co-authors Tara Schmidt, B.A. and Lisa Wexler, Ph.D. (University of Massachusetts Amherst) and Bridie Trainer (former Wellness Director at Kawerak, the Alaska Native regional nonprofit providing services to Northwestern Alaska’s Bering Straits region) conducted a pilot evaluation of weeklong culture camps developed in two remote regions of Alaska. The camps bring together Alaska Native youth from villages in these regions to take part in subsistence activities, cultivate new relationships, develop life skills, and learn traditional knowledge and values.

While limited in scope and design, the pilot evaluation – the first of its kind – found culture camps are a positive experience for Alaska Native youth, provide an increased sense of belongingness, and a perceived ability to cope with life stressors. While the authors found it unlikely that culture camps alone can repair decades of cultural disruption, they did find the camps to be an important part of a broad range of local suicide prevention efforts, which, collectively, over many years, have the ability to reduce suicide rates within Indigenous communities.

The evaluation was funded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). A Pilot Evaluation of Culture Camps to Increase Alaska Native Youth Wellness, can be found at https://doi.org/10.1177/1524839918824078

Please contact Jodi Barnett directly for any questions about this article:
Email: jdbarnett@alaska.edu
Phone: 907.786.5471