Academic journal article International Public Health Journal

Look to the Source: Gathering Elder Stories as Segue to Youth Action-Oriented Research

Academic journal article International Public Health Journal

Look to the Source: Gathering Elder Stories as Segue to Youth Action-Oriented Research

Article excerpt

Introduction

Across the life cycle the health status of Indigenous peoples living in the United States (US) compares unfavorably with non-indigenous populations (1, 2). Native Hawaiian, American Indian, and Alaska Native populations are burdened by disparate rates of disability, morbidity, and mortality from cardiovascular and cerebrovascular diseases, cancer, and other serious conditions. Health inequalities commonly are linked to proximal factors with interventions focused on the health behaviors of individuals and groups, as well access to care and other health systems barriers. However, indigenous researchers increasingly are linking health inequalities to more distal social determinants, including the effects of western colonization, collective trauma, intergenerational marginalization, and cultural erasure (3-13). Cultural erasure occurs when Native knowledge is denigrated and when mainstream, written history expurgates the perspective of Indigenous peoples, as well as their collective efforts to survive and resist the impact of western knowledge hegemony on their wellbeing (5, 9-13). Emergent Indigenous research views cultural erasure as a means for colonizing forces to justify expropriation of native lands and resources.

Mainstream public education historically has served as a key medium for cultural erasure, with the latter promulgated through educational policies and pedagogical practices forbidding use of Native language in the classroom and obliterating from instructional curriculum the knowledge and the belief systems central to Indigenous traditions of land stewardship, health maintenance, and livelihood (5-6, 9-13). In the 21st century, Native Hawaiian, American Indian, and Alaska Native community schools are engaged actively in creating "alter-native" learning environments that emphasize educational self-determination and sovereignty, a culturally safe learning environment, and critical pedagogy tailored on the traditions of specific Indigenous groups (5,913, 15). Of critical concern are issues related to: (a) preparing youth for literacies reflective of the multiple intelligences essential to continuity of traditional Indigenous knowledge and replenishment of their communities in a post-modern society, (b) transmission of land-based cultural traditions and social history to Native and non-Native students, and (c) the role of intergenerational connectedness in cultivating cultural continuity and in building strong, healthy communities.

This project developed and piloted an oral history curriculum intended to increase the capacity of Native Hawaiian youth to conduct action-oriented research. The project involved 11th and 12th grade students from Halau Ku Mana (HKM), a Native Hawaiian culturebased public charter school located in a densely populated area of Honolulu, Hawai'i. The name "Halau Ku Mana" derives from the traditional Hawaiian wisdom "Ku no i ka mana a ke kahu hanai" ("be like the one from whom you learned") which attributes a person's values and commitments to the elders who provided care and taught them (5,16). Language revival is fundamental to addressing effects of cultural erasure and study participants' comments frequently are laced with Hawaiian language terms. Table 1 provides brief definitions of Hawaiian terms used, with terms spelled with all diacritical marks.

HKM partnered with elder volunteers and University of Hawai'i Manoa researchers associated with Ha Kupuna (HK) National Resource Center for Native Hawaiian Elders. As with HKM, the name "Ha Kupuna" reflects the vital connection between elders and younger persons; specifically, it refers to ways in which na kupuna (elders) share the ha (breath or essence of life) with na makua (adults of the parent generation) and na 'opio (youth). The vision of HK is to raise the health and wellbeing of na kupuna to parity with that of elders from other ethnic groups. While na kupuna hold a valued place in the Native Hawaiian tradition, this population of older adults (> 60 years) have a higher percentage of disability, the greatest number of years of productive life lost, and lowest life expectancy of Hawai'i State's elder population (7-8). …

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