American Indian and Alaska Native youth experience trauma at higher rates than other young people in the United States, putting them at increased risk for developing trauma-related problems such as substance misuse and suicidal behaviors, research shows. These problems can impact school attendance and performance.
Trauma-informed school systems recognize the impact of individual and intergenerational trauma on the lives of youth and their communities and support individual and community healing, reducing the risk of retraumatization. These approaches also incorporate input from youth and integrate cultural wisdom into practices. A trauma-informed school system can be crucial to a youth’s successful development and academic success.
The Ohkay Owingeh Tribe in northern New Mexico used a fiscal year 2019 grant from OJJDP for its Tribal youth program, providing trauma-informed trainings to the staff of the Tribe's Health and Human Services Department and the Tribal and public schools that Pueblo youth attend. The program's ultimate objective was to increase the number of students applying for college, so the Tribe sought to reduce youth truancy and enhance academic achievement, according to Elicka Martinez, Project Lead for the Ohkay Owingeh Tribal Youth Program. Funding was awarded through the Coordinated Tribal Assistance Solicitation, and the Tribe worked with the OJJDP-funded Tribal Youth Resource Center.
"People don't realize the impact of historical trauma on Tribal youth.… Sometimes the children feel lost or don't have the proper guidance at home and end up acting out in school and with their peers."
—Elicka Martinez, Project Lead, Ohkay Owingeh Tribal Youth Program
The National Native Children's Trauma Center, a Tribal Youth Resource Center partner, provided trauma-informed trainings for staff at the Ohkay Owingeh Community School and the Española Public Schools, which serve the Pueblo's youth. Offered virtually, the trainings covered the tenets of trauma education, prevention, and healing, including trauma and resilience in Tribal communities, impacts of historical trauma, childhood exposure to trauma, secondary traumatic stress and self-care, and cultural humility.
"The training was a big eye-opener" for the school staff, Ms. Martinez said. They didn't realize the significant role historical trauma plays in student behavior and performance in school, she said. The Ohkay Owingeh Tribe would like school staff to receive trainings to address issues such as bullying and suicide prevention, too.
The Ohkay Owingeh Tribe's partnership with Española Public Schools extends beyond staff trainings. The collaboration also seeks to identify and remediate root factors that hinder youth from academic success, Ms. Martinez said, whether that issue relates to mental health or to a lack of reliable transportation for school. She is also working on an agreement that would allow Tribal authorities to provide social services to Tribal youth referred by the Española school system. The agreement would build on existing memorandums of understanding that allow for Tribal intervention when youth enter the state or local justice system.
OJJDP's Tribal Youth Resource Center can provide Tribal grantees and federally recognized Tribes with training to develop trauma-informed juvenile justice systems. The Tribal Youth Resource Center also offers a variety of online resources on youth programs, truancy, and delinquency prevention.