When Red Lake Nation began exploring 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 tribal members from these problems.
Date Published:Apr 26, 2014
There is great beauty in the traditions and philosophies of our Tribe. Understanding and appreciating the beauty within and around us is a great beginning to our wellness.
—Red Lake Chemical Health Protective Factors Factsheet 
In 2007, the Red Lake Band of Chippewa, located on the Red Lake Nation reservation in north-central Minnesota, received funding from 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.
The Red Lake Epidemiological Outcomes Workgroup is a cross-sector committee comprising Red Lake Chemical Health, the tribe’s substance abuse prevention and treatment organization, family services and vocational rehabilitation services, and local youth groups. 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.
The workgroup was eager to share what it had learned. “There are wonderful things that happen around here,” says Beasley, “It gets depressing only hearing the negative. So it’s important to highlight our culture, our prevention, and the positive aspects of our community.”
After considering a variety of dissemination possibilities, the workgroup decided to create a factsheet that both highlighted Red Lake’s many protective factors, and encouraged tribal participation in activities that promote these factors. The message? That Red Lake Nation’s culture is prevention.
The factsheet also describes the relationship between substance use and mental health, and how Red Lake’s cultural traditions also contribute to positive mental health outcomes. For instance, participation in many of Red Lake’s “positive social, community, and cultural activities” is shown to protect community members from not only alcohol and marijuana use, but also depression, and anxiety.
Woven throughout the factsheet is information about cultural activities sponsored by Red Lake Chemical Health, including Powwows, a fishing derby, and seasonal cultural camps, as well as culturally-infused prevention programs, such as Bii-Zin-Dah-De-Dah (Listening to One Another), a family-based alcohol and drug prevention program.
“We try to incorporate culture into every aspect of our programming,” says Beasley. “From prevention to treatment to aftercare, affirming our tribe’s identity is really important. We want them to be a proud people.”
Since publishing the factsheet, Red Lake Chemical Health has disseminated hundreds of copies throughout the community. “We’ve sent the guide to community members, passed it out at conferences, and shared it with stakeholders. It also helps us show funding agencies the programs and activities that their grant funding have made possible.” explained Beasley. “It has been very well received. We printed 1,000 copies last summer and we only have a few left.”
The Red Lake Nation’s Protective Factors Factsheet  is available on the CAPT website.
Developed under the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s Center for the Application of Prevention Technologies contract (Reference #HHSS277200800004C).