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Three Native American teen girls

Respecting and Honoring Tribal Youth

Helping tribal youth regain pride in their heritage through culturally appropriate adolescent pregnancy prevention programs fosters healthy relationships and other healthy life skills.
  • Tweet This Tribal youth need programs that understand, respect, and honor their heritage.
  • Tweet This Strengthening parent-child communication and relationships can help prevent adolescent pregnancy.
  • Tweet This Hear @FYSBgov grantee Annie Nowak’s story on engaging tribal youth in pregnancy prevention efforts.

Does talking about sex make teens want to have sex? No. In fact, it can reduce teen pregnancy by demystifying sex and decreasing risky behavior, according to Annie Nowak, Prevention Coordinator for the Poarch Band of Creek Indians. As part of our Strength in Action podcast series, we spoke with Nowak about how she and the Poarch Band of Creek Indians are addressing adolescent pregnancy prevention (APP) among tribal youth.

The Poarch Band of Creek Indians tribe has more than 3,000 members and receives FYSB’s Tribal Personal Responsibility Education Program (PREP) funding to provide teen pregnancy and sexually Poarch Creek Indians tribal flagtransmitted infection prevention and adulthood preparation programming. Nowak’s program reaches youth through youth-focused community settings, including the school system, the Boys and Girls Club, and a summer leadership program.

Understand Historical Trauma

As descendants of the original Creek Nation, the Poarch Band of Creek Indians live near Atmore, Alabama, in a rural area about 57 miles northeast of Mobile. The Poarch Band of Creek Indians is the only federally recognized tribe in Alabama and operates as a sovereign nation with its own system of government. Like many other tribes in the United States, the Poarch Band of Creek Indians tribe has experienced isolation, racial discrimination, and poverty since its formation 150 years ago.

For Nowak, who describes herself as “a guest on the reservation,” it is important to understand the impact that past injustices have had on today’s tribal youth. Acknowledging that decades of trauma have affected family dynamics, Nowak encourages youth to initiate conversations with their parents about relationships and sex. “Many healthy relationships have not been modeled in the community,” she says. To address this challenge, the Poarch Band of Creek Indians’ APP program focuses on strengthening healthy relationships and parent-child communication.

As part of this focus on parent-child communication, Nowak and program facilitators tell youth, “We [understand] how difficult the conversation is to have with your parents, or your guardian, so you open it up. We know that your parents want to talk to you about these things.”

She continues, “We talk about healthy relationships, not only how you should treat other people, but how you should allow other people to treat you. We talk about effective communication with your peers, but also with your parents. We talk about effective communication with your teachers.”

Respect and Honor Tribal Youth

Another thing that Nowak learned is how to adapt APP curricula to the tribe’s cultural values and beliefs. In a community with a strong religious presence, many tribe members are reluctant to discuss sexual behavior.

When starting the program, Nowak remembers that members were concerned that talking about sex would make kids want to have sex. “When in reality, we know exactly the opposite is true,” Nowak says. “Once they understand what’s behind this veil of mystery, they are so much less likely to participate in risky behaviors.”

To address these concerns, the Poarch Band of Creek Indians APP program educates youth on how they can protect themselves and feel empowered to make the best decisions. Facilitators focus on positive self-image and peer pressure resistance.

“We're arming them with the resources that they can use to make the best choices,” Nowak describes. “I think mostly, understanding where the youth are, where they're coming from, is a big part of it…and we are only here to provide information and to guide those choices, not tell you what is right and wrong.”

As the tribe’s prosperity grows, youth members are working to reclaim tribal culture, language, and traditions. “Tribal youth are, in some respects, having to regain that sense of being proud of their heritage,” Nowak comments. She believes that it is critical for programs and facilitators to respect and honor the culture that grounds the youth they serve.

The tribe’s APP program efforts seem to be working so far. “What we hear is that kids say, ‘I could never have these conversations with my parents,’ or ‘I could never have these conversations with my grandmother,’” Nowak says. “Just allowing them to ask questions […] they are so thankful.”

Tune in! Hear directly from Annie Nowak. Listen to the podcast episode Respecting and Honoring Tribal Youth, and discover how strengthening parent-child communication and fostering healthy relationships can support adolescent pregnancy prevention.


Page last updated: January 13, 2017
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