New Native Streams Institute
Through the generations, American Indian communities agreed to set aside their differences and bring their goods to a central place near the river to trade. This was a time of peaceful celebration, storytelling, and above all, trading. Since the tribes spoke different languages, facilitators—or translators—were the key brokers and negotiators for those who came to trade. The newly-created Native Streams Institute at EDC continues this tradition, working with native communities as their key brokers to find solutions to the health challenges that they face.
The Institute’s diverse staff, predominantly American Indian and Alaskan natives, is geographically spread across the U.S. Because they have lived and worked in Indian country most of their lives, they maintain a deep understanding of native culture, community needs, and the surrounding economic and political issues that impact tribes.
“Our staff are a key asset because along with their unmatched level of expertise, they understand and respect native ways,” says Stephanie Autumn, director of the Native Streams Institute. “They collaborate with tribal communities to tap their strengths and restore the balance that previously existed among native people for thousands of years.”
Native people are burdened by historical trauma, as well as very high rates of poverty—above 25 percent—so their health and well-being has inevitably suffered. The staff of Native Streams Institute work on specific projects that promote the healthy development of American Indian and Alaskan youth and their families.
For example, Institute staff provide customized training and support to more than 120 native communities across the country, with a focus on decreasing delinquency and establishing culturally specific prevention services for each community. In school districts that have a majority American Indian population and receive Safe Schools/Healthy Students grants, staff assist the districts with locating and implementing programs that promote the mental health of their students, and prevent or reduce substance abuse and violence. Additionally, the Institute’s staff provide assistance with the evaluation of innovative and emerging substance abuse prevention programs developed by Native Americans for Native Americans.
Suicide is one of the most tragic outcomes of intergenerational trauma and the destitution that many native people experience. Suicide rates in native communities are highest among young men from their teens to mid-twenties, almost double the rate of any other ethnic group for that age group. To prevent suicide, combat feelings of hopelessness and nurture adolescent identity, Institute staff work with native communities to establish cultural projects that connect youth to their history through cultural ceremonies, events and mentoring programs with elders.
Native Streams Institute builds on the extensive experience in EDC's Health and Human Development division (HHD) with suicide prevention, promoting childhood mental health, violence prevention, and youth mentoring. It is an initiative that grew out of the division's desire and commitment to expand its services to Native communities as staff became more passionate about serving American Indian and Alaskan youth and their families.
“We are the kind of organization that steps in and builds our own capacity when we see a need and a void in services,” explains Autumn. “Native Streams Institute will continue to grow to support native people in redesigning systems of care that will result in thriving, sustainable communities that co-exist in harmony with the earth again.”