Alaska Native nonprofit puts culture at the forefront of substance abuse prevention


CITC organizes berry picking outings for youth as part of its drug prevention services. (Photo courtesy of CITC)

This summer, the Cook Inlet Tribal Council took young people berry picking as part of their substance abuse prevention program.

CITC is a tribal non-profit organization that calls itself a “culturally responsive social service organization”. Dr. Angela Michaud is the Senior Director of Recovery Services at CITC.

“With our wild blueberries, we didn’t have enough to do [the jam] for the 50 people who were in the room,” Michaud said. “So we went to Costco and bought some blueberries and mixed them with the wild blueberries and made our jam that way.”

She said adapting village traditions to a city like Anchorage helps young people tap into their culture to improve their health outcomes and reduce addiction rates.

“Anchorage is a huge village,” Michaud said. “He is [about] go out and have that feeling of connection.

barries in jars
A CITC cultural event involves taking young people berry picking and then giving them a jar to take home to their families. (Photo courtesy of CITC)

Prevention through youth engagement

CITC has found through surveys that participants do not use substances when participating in cultural activities.

“It’s a five-hour period where they can say ‘I didn’t drink, use alcohol or drugs’ and they were happy,” Michaud said.

Building on these promising results, CITC is using two new federal grants to place Alaska Native cultural education at the forefront of its drug prevention programs.

“What we do is we implement a culture of healing [to] prevent smoking, alcohol, drug addiction and suicide,” said Michaud.

With some of the money, they can host monthly cultural events targeting Alaska Native youth and their family members.

Chris Delgado comes from an Inupiaq family and acts as a prevention supervisor, directing these activities for the CITC. He grew up in Anchorage.

“I missed some of the cultural activities going on,” Delgado said. “It’s going to be slowly forgotten if we don’t stop and do something about it. As long as we can involve young people, I think we are in good shape.

CITC’s prevention activities include more conventional training, such as how to use naloxone, a drug that reverses opioid overdoses. But it also offers lessons in dancing, walrus ivory carving, berry picking, traditional storytelling, ice fishing and hooligan net fishing.

a sculpted tusk
Young people participate in tusk carving cultural activities as part of the CITC program. (Photo courtesy of CITC)

These programs aim to build the confidence of Indigenous youth and teach life skills that participants can learn and share, Michaud said.

A case for connectivity

A recent article published in a leading medical journal pointed out that teens who feel more connected to their community, peers and families have up to 66% less risk of substance use.

Robert Blum of Johns Hopkins University is an expert on adolescent health and the lead author of the article. He pointed out that studies have long shown that conventional information-based addiction prevention strategies for young people have no effect on young people – and sometimes even have negative effects. He advocates treating “young people as resources rather than problems”.

CITC has a program that uses young people in long-term recovery as a resource, hiring them to help teach their peers.

“They are able to share their experiences with others to help them succeed in the program,” said Michaud.

Small details, like providing food options that are part of traditional Indigenous diets, bring these communities of peers together.

“People started getting used to eating salmon, and then this year we finally got to get them out there so we could fish it,” she said. “And they took their own fish and brought it back. It’s just the excitement and the stories that came out of it.

As a result of this program, she cites a decrease in recidivism rates and an increase in the number of participants who complete the program and obtain employment and housing.

“We don’t just want to survive,” Michaud said. “We thrive [when] we brought this stuff to the table. We were overcoming our adversities, and it feels different.

A reversed model

Michaud says many prevention programs take a Western medicine curriculum and simply add Indigenous words to it. But the CITC team has built its entire course on culture. She says Western models are secondary.

“You teach them to connect with nature and bring people outdoors away from distractions, drugs, alcohol and abuse,” Michaud said.

And these events are not just one-off encounters. Many youth attendees join one event and then go on to enroll in others, even getting involved in other programs offered by CITC to boost employment and education graduation rates secondary.

A group collected seeds and planted them in a community garden. Once ripe, the food went to the Alaska Native Health Center so patients could eat traditional foods.

“And how that relates to our culture is that we’ve had so much trauma over the last two, three generations that a lot of the culture has been taken away,” Michaud said.

She says Native and Alaskan Native people have led healthy lifestyles for thousands of years, and only in the last few hundred years have they had these health issues. related to addiction.

“We were fine and then we weren’t,” she said. “And now we just go back to what we know and we’re fine.”

About Christopher Easley

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