In 2007, the Red Lake Band of Chippewa, located on the Red Lake Nation reservation in north-central Minnesota, received funding from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) to convene the Red Lake Epidemiological Outcomes Workgroup. Charged with collecting and using local data to understand the substance use and related problems facing the community, the workgroup began a journey of exploration. Expecting to uncover the factors that placed the tribe’s youth at increased risk for substance use and related problems, they were pleased to also discover a wealth of tradition that protected tribe members of all ages from these problems.
To understand the substance-related problems facing the tribe, the workgroup began by examining data from the Minnesota Student Survey, a triennial survey administered to youth that measures health-risk behaviors. They also developed and administered a new survey, designed to assess contributors to substance use, as well as consequences and perceptions of use, among Red Lake adults.
Findings from these surveys revealed the presence of a variety of protective factors—that is, factors that reduce, rather than increase, the likelihood of substance abuse among tribal youth and adults. For example, Red Lake youth reported that they were less likely than other Minnesota and American Indian youth to get alcohol from their parents. Also, a majority of Red Lake adults reported that their culture helped them stay sober.
What emerged from the data was the strength of Red Lake’s traditional culture—including its language, music, dance, and ceremonies—in engaging and protecting the community. “Native American traditions have historically been stifled rather than celebrated,” says Salena Beasley, Project Director of Red Lake Chemical Health, “but tradition and culture are the keys to understanding the life of the Tribe.”
Based on these and similar findings, the workgroup decided to adopt a strengths-based approach to prevention and, over a period of many months, identified an array of protective factors that were most meaningful to the Red Lake people.
Population of focus: Red Lake youth
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Organization: Red Lake Epidemiological Outcomes Workgroup, Red Lake Nation