Mentoring Native American/Alaskan Native Victims + Survivors

alaska native youth mentoring
    Stop Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children

    “This project was supported by Grant #2017-MC-FX-K051 awarded by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice. The opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of the Department of Justice.” 

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    Native American/Alaskan Native youth come from nations that are rich with culture, tradition, and spirituality. Developing cultural humility (competence) allows us to recognize and reinforce the supportive strengths/protections of Native communities, as well as, understand the social challenges1 in order to provide the most effective and appropriate services.



    What do we know?


    • To best serve Native youth, agencies, programs, and mentors first need to understand the hardships associated with historical trauma. Native populations face interconnecting social problems that reduce youths’ opportunities to thrive and succeed in life1.
      • American Indians, Native Americans, First Nation people, or Indigenous people only make up 1.7% of the United States population2 but experience disproportionately higher rates of alcoholism, homelessness, human trafficking, health problems, and domestic violence3.
      • According to the Centers for Disease Control4, natives have the highest rate of drug-induced death (17.1%). The suicide rate is 1.5 times higher than the national average and is the second leading cause of death ages 10-434. Additionally, Native women experience higher lifetime prevalence (45.3%) of rape, physical violence, and stalking by intimate partners than any other race5.  Many factors contribute to these trends but the unique driving factor to native groups is their experience of multigenerational trauma or historical trauma. Though historical (or intergenerational) trauma and oppression are often used interchangeably, it is important to note the different meanings:
        • Historical trauma is multigenerational trauma or colonial abuse, refers to specific traumatic events across time that have left native people with immense losses with no time to collectively reflect and heal, thus the trauma is passed from generation to generation3,6,7.
        • Historical oppression describes the chronic, pervasive, and intergenerational experiences of oppression that, over time, may be normalized, imposed, and internalized into the daily lives of many indigenous/native people6,8.

    So What?

    What does it mean? Why is this information important?


    There are consequences associated with historical trauma and oppression.

    • Loss
      • Native groups’ ways of life were shattered through historical trauma and oppression. They were dehumanized and lost their cultural and spiritual practices that held their tight-knit groups together 12. The Native worldview involves interconnectedness to ancestors, each other, animals, and nature which has been disrupted.
      • Loss of culture and spiritual practices is extensive due to genocide, relocations, and forced assimilation through boarding schools 6, 7, 9, 10, 11.
      • As great numbers of people were killed, separated from family, or sent off to school, culture and history were unable to be passed down through story-telling.
      • Younger generations were unable to speak their native tongues in school which resulted in a loss of language and disconnection from culture.
    • Vulnerability
      • Children experienced spiritual, physical, and sexual abuse while in boarding schools 10, 11, 13.
      • Internalization of oppressor’s beliefs, erosion of traditional values and roles, and violence amplifies vulnerability and risk factors in Native communities 3, 7, 13 in addition to sexism and racism 3, 10,11.
      • Native people often experience hopelessness caused by trauma and oppression leading to issues of poverty, homelessness, higher rates of drug and alcohol use, violence and crime, and discrimination and exclusion 6, 13.
      • Over time, intergenerational trauma has occurred. Sexual exploitation and violence have become integrated into native women’s lives as to be expected.
    • Human Trafficking
      • Native women and girls are vulnerable to sexual exploitation and human trafficking at disproportionate rates 13. Human trafficking is exploitation of a vulnerability.
      • Ultimately the historical oppression of Native people, and of Native women in particular, is the driving force behind their experience in trafficking3,10.
      • Trafficking and sexism are forms of violence that devalue and commodify women, remove people’s options, and force them to do what they need to survive and take away basic human rights 10, 11

    Now What?

    What are the implications? What can we do?


    General Practice Implications for Individuals

    • Prioritize trauma-informed knowledge, practices, and responses in your work.
    • Specific to human trafficking, many survivors credit reconnection to cultural identity, community, and spiritual practices as a way they survived or escaped their situations of exploitation10Native Elders interviewed suggested focusing on the positives of moving forward9.
    • This doesn’t mean ignoring the impact of historical oppression. Post-trauma growth highlights the capacity of individuals to overcome, grow, and become prosperous people despite the darkness they or their culture have faced14.

    General Practice Implications for Service Providers

    • Though many of the issues Native groups experience are similar to other minority groups, there is a great need to acknowledge the impact of historical trauma and oppression in their lives.
    • Service providers should be able to identify, be flexible, and responsive to cultural, emotional, physical, and geographical needs.
    • Facilitate healing in programs by focusing on resilience and post-traumatic growth. Shift perspective from a deficit model (focusing on weaknesses and risks) to a strengths model to change the narrative to focus on resilience. 7, 9, 15, 16.
    • Ensure that services provided are trauma-informed and empowerment-based (helping individuals regain power and control over their life). Consider adopting a “survivor-led approach” in programming.

    General Practice Implications for Communities

    • Recognize the role of historical trauma and oppression in native populations.
    • Seek and promote tribal leaders/individuals from Native communities to be involved in community leadership, task forces, and coalitions.
    • Intentionally work to decrease the marginalization of Native populations in the community.
    • Support cultural events in the community.

    Mentoring Practice Implications for Individuals

    • Provide opportunities for youth to participate in cultural activities and events. Native groups’ culture was eroded over time and research shows that enculturation can be a key to healing6, 9.
    • Promote and build healthy and permanent social connections with family and other safe adults. One of the most promising protective factors related to violence against indigenous women is families7.
    • 60% of indigenous women who experienced interpersonal violence had lost a parent by the age of eighteen8.
    • Develop a trauma-informed “lens” and prioritize trauma-informed responses in daily interactions.

    Mentoring Practice Implications for Service Providers

    • ​​​​​Provide training and skill-building opportunities to mentors. Including trauma-informed practices, strengths-based approach, and learning to facilitate survivor leadership/empowerment-based programming.
    • Partner with the Native community to provide training and consultation.
    • Ask youth and their parents their preference with regard to mentors’ race/ethnicity when making matches, regardless of mentor and youth race/ethnicity 17.
    • Assist mentors and youth in finding similarities/connections on other dimensions17.
    • Incorporate families into mentoring relationships, activities, and programs.
    • Provide information and learning opportunities to parents on increased risk, protective, and resiliency factors.

    Mentoring Practice Implications for Communities

    • Access and support cultural celebrations in the community.
    • Help youth to build social connections, learn to serve, and understand how to access opportunities (e.g. education, employment, leadership, arts) in the larger community.




    1. Aschenbrener, C., Johnson, S., & Schulz, M. (2017). A new mentorship model: The perceptions of educational futures for Native American youth at a rural tribal school. Journal of Child & Adolescent Behavior, 5(4), 1-8. doi: 10.4172/2375-4494.1000348.
    2. American Indian and Alaska Native Population: 2010, 2010 Census Briefs, January, 2012
      By Tina Norris, Paula L. Vines, and Elizabeth M. Hoeffel,
    3. Pierce, A.S. (2009). Shattered hearts: The commercial sexual exploitation of American Indian women and girls in Minnesota. The Minnesota American Indian Women’s Resource Center.
    4. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (2015). Suicide: Facts at a Glance. Retrieved from 
    5. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (2010). National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey: 2010 Summary Report.  Retrieved from
    6. Burnette, C. (2018). Family and cultural protective factors as the bedrock of resilience and growth for Indigenous women who have experienced violence. Journal of Family Social Work, 21(1), 45-62. doi: 10.1080/10522158.2017.1402532
    7. Burnette, C., & Figley, C. (2016). Historical oppression, resilience, and transcendence: Can a holistic framework help explain violence experience by Indigenous people? Social Work, 62(1), 37-44. doi: 10.1093/sw/sww065
    8. Burnette, C., (2015). Disentangling Indigenous women’s experiences with intimate partner violence in the United States. Critical Social Work, 16(1), 1-20. Retrieved from
    9. Grayshield, L., Rutherford, J., Salazar, S., Mihecoby, A., & Luna, L. (2015). Understanding and healing historical trauma: The perspectives of Native American elders. Journal of Mental Health, 37(4), 295-307. doi: 10.17744/mehc.37.4.02
    10. Farley, M., Deer, S., Golding, J., Matthews N., Lopez, G., Stark, C., & Hudon, E. (2016). The prostitution and trafficking of American Indian/Alaska Native women in Minnesota.  American Indian and Alaska Native Mental Health Research, 23(1), 65-104.  doi: 10.5820/aian.2301.2016.65.
    11. Bourgeois, R. (2015). Colonial exploitation: The Canadian state and the trafficking of Indigenous women and girls in Canada. UCLA Law Review, 62, 1426-1463.
    12. Freire, P. (2005). Pedagogy of the oppressed (30th ed.). New York, NY: The Continuum International Publishing Group Inc. 
    13. Johnson, A. (2012). A perfect storm: The U.S. anti-trafficking regime’s failure to stop the sex trafficking of American Indian women and girls. Columbia Human Rights Law Review, 43(2), 617-710. 
    14. Anderson, K. (2018). Post-traumatic growth and resilience despite experiencing trauma and oppression. Journal of Family Social Work, 21(1), 1-4.  doi:  10.1080/10522158.2017.1402540
    15. Countryman-Roswurm, K. & DiLollo, A. (2017). Survivor: A narrative therapy approach for use with sex trafficked women and girls. Women & Therapy, 40(1-2), 55-72.
    16. Teuful-Shone, N., Tippens, J., McCrary, H., Ehiri, J., & Sanderson, P. (2018). Resilience in American Indian and Alaska Native public health: An underexplored framework.  American Journal of Health Promotion, 32(2), 274-281. doi: 10.1177/0890117116664708
    17. Sanchez, B., Colon-Torres, Y., Feuer, R., Roundfield, K.E., & Berardi, L. (2005). Race, Ethnicity, and Culture in Mentoring Relationships. Handbook of Youth Mentoring.
    18. Owens, J.  (2012).  Historic in a bad way: How the tribal law and order act continues the American tradition of providing inadequate protection to American Indian and Alaska native rape victims. The Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, 102(2), 497-524.
    19. Pierce, A.S. (2012). American Indian adolescent girls: Vulnerability to sex trafficking, intervention strategies. American Indian and Alaska Native Mental Health Research.
    20. U.S. Census Bureau. (2010). Overview of Race and Hispanic Origin: 2010. Retrieved from

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