Invest in a culture that protects Native children

Invest in a culture that protects Native children

Why is it important to invest in NAYA’s work? Our cultural programs provide critical support for Portland’s Native American youth that truly make a difference in their lives.

Western research is finally catching up to what Native organizations like NAYA have long known: connection to culture is a protective factor for Native youth. Youth exposed to their Native culture are better at avoiding risky and unhealthy behavior as adolescents. Knowing this, NAYA has always embedded culture throughout its youth programs.

Researchers say Native youth are at risk of experiencing “adverse childhood experiences,” or ACEs, and that these lead to health and behavioral problems later in life. ACEs include physical, sexual, and emotional abuse; emotional and physical neglect; and exposure to violence, mental illness, and substance abuse in the home, among others.

Intergenerational trauma caused by government policies that broke up Native families—subjecting them to abuse at residential schools or separating Native children from their culture permanently through child welfare practice—coupled with problems such as poverty and substance abuse has meant Native children experience high numbers of ACEs in general. These children are more likely to struggle as teenagers with a host of mental and behavioral health issues, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, smoking, substance abuse, anxiety, teen pregnancy, dropping out of school, and suicide.

Therefore, intervening with Native youth can be an actual matter of life and death in some cases. Fortunately, research confirms that cultural youth programs not only help them heal from past trauma, but also build resiliency to protect them from risky behavior in the future.

Singing at a drum, visiting with an elder, learning a Native language, smudging, sweating, playing Indigenous games—these activities provide protection. Connecting Native youth with their culture bolsters self-confidence and their sense of security being part of a larger, interconnected community.

Youth who develop a positive cultural identity are proven to have better health and social outcomes than others. In other words, risky behavior associated with ACEs are significantly less likely for Native youth who have connected to their Indigenous culture.

NAYA’s dedicated staff work with youth and families every day to provide culturally responsive services and family-friendly programming intended to cement a positive sense of Native identity and foster an understanding that community is family. We know these lessons are critical to the long-term health and happiness of our kids.

Your support of NAYA will help us to reach more youth and more families in 2020. Please consider donating today at