The Role of Cultural Identification in Fostering Resilience in Indigenous Youth in Alaska, Canada, Greenland, Norway and Russia

Goals: The project involves five Indigenous circumpolar communities and is designed to identify similarities across Native communities in assessing young peoples’ strengths and resources, and to develop new ideas for supporting them. As young people become adults, they need to feel useful and be able to live in both Western and indigenous worlds. A sense of purpose helps them make the right choices.  The circumpolar study is designed to figure out how to support youth in doing this.  By considering the importance of cultural identity as Inupiat Ilitqusiat, subsistence, and basic human values, the study aims to create ways to help individuals learn culture — who they are and how they are culturally.

Although health disparities in arctic indigenous populations have been extensively documented, how young people in these communities live successful lives is not well known. Unlike much previous research that focuses on negative statistics and risk factors, the circumpolar study seeks to document the many ways that young people in Kotzebue and other arctic communities are able to become healthy adults.  While the impact of colonial and contemporary suffering has been extensively documented, the research is based on the premise that the history of resilience and healthy adaptation of indigenous people has not been adequately considered.

Methods: With funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF), university researchers are partnering with tribal organizations to examine the success stories of Indigenous young people. The project is now in the process of collecting young people’s life histories in these circumpolar communities, home to Alaska Inupiat and Yup’ik, Canadian Inuit, Siberian Eveny, and Sami peoples. The researchers work with local steering committees to identify and learn from the similarities and differences across stories.  The researchers depend on community members as partners, not as research subjects.  The central focus of the research is looking at what indigenous people are doing right.

The project is designed to fit into the larger scope of what community leaders are trying to create in the community and in the region. The leaders have plans to help youth and have a good understanding of how research works. Thus, the study is designed to build on and learn from what the community is already creating.

Principal Investigators: The NSF International Polar Year grant is directed by four co-principal investigators: Dr. Lisa Wexler, at the University of Massachusetts Amherst Institute for Global Health; Profs.  James Allen and Gerald Mohatt, at University of Alaska Fairbanks; Olga Ulturgasheva, of Cambridge University; and Michael Kral, of the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign and University of Toronto. Wexler works in Kotzebue, Alaska.  Allen and Mohatt work in Alakanuk. Kral in Igloolik, Nunavut, and Ulturgasheva in Topolinoye, Siberia; Ulturgasheva is Eveny herself and from her research community of Topolinoye, Siberia. In addition, Kristine Nystad at Sami University College along with Benedicte Ingstad at the University of Oslo, works in Kautokeino, Norway.