Developing Cultural Resources for Families and the Community
The Cook Inlet Tribal Council (CITC) has served Alaska Native and American Indian people in Anchorage and the Cook Inlet region since 1983. CITC offers an array of services aimed at helping individuals and families reach their full potential. In fall of 2018, the organization expanded its home-based family services with a focus on prevention.
The new program, called Ch’anik’en, is funded by a grant from the Tribal Maternal Infant Early Childhood Home Visiting (TMIECHV) Program, administered by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families (ACF). Family mentors conduct home visits and group gatherings that support child development, parenting skills and access to resources.
“Our organization has worked for many years to address the disproportionate rates of Alaska Native and American Indian children in the child protective services system,” said program director Deborah Northburg. “We’ve worked on many initiatives that intervene with families when there already is a crisis. The TMIECHV model is a fantastic opportunity for us to integrate and grow our efforts in prevention.”
The first year of the grant was devoted to community engagement, assessment and planning. “I really appreciated that whole process,” said family mentor Shirley Homberg. “It brought about for me a better understanding of the MIECHV program and what it entails. It helped us become more of a team, and we all had some say in what was going to happen.”
A key decision was which home visiting model to use. “After the community needs and readiness assessment, I had a short list in my own head about the model that we’d be using,” said Northburg. “But through that process of gaining feedback from our stakeholders, it became something different. Parents as Teachers was what people felt would be most effective with the families we hoped to serve.”
A major focus of Ch’anik’en has been integrating cultural components into all aspects of the program. “Here in Anchorage we have people who come from all different parts of Alaska,” said family mentor Tiara McDougal. “It’s really important to respect the different cultural traditions and ways of life that each of us live. We have some cultural overlap, but there are also differences — like our languages — we need to respect.”
Beyond the cultural enhancements available through Parents As Teachers, the Ch’anik’en staff have developed their own cultural resources to use with families. These include a list of common phrases for each of the major cultures and cards with animal pictures, along with both the native and English words.
“We learn how to say hello and thank you in each of those different languages," said McDougal. "So when we go into that home the family receives us a little bit better. We try to understand how important their culture is to them, where they’re at and where they would like to be.”
Dolls made by the staff and adorned in cultural regalia have been particularly popular. “During my first visit with one family, I brought one of the Eskimo dolls,” said family mentor Gail Fitka. “The girl just fell in love with that doll. Her mother was amazed. She hadn’t seen one made like that since she was young and living back in her village. She also liked me counting in Yupik with her daughter and said it made her want to use their native language more with her daughter.”
The program offers social gatherings open to the community to promote social and cultural connections. “Each one of the staff is from a different culture,” said program manager Joni Bennett. “We take turns leading the group socials and introduce some of our culture at each gathering. We did a native food gift basket at our first one in honor of the different cultures and the traditional foods that our people eat.”
The families have also enjoyed a performance by a Yupik dance group and making beaded bracelets and other items they can take home with them.
“A lot of our cultural traditions have been lost over the years and there’s a whole lot of missed potential when you leave out those parts,” said McDougal. “The cultural components bring in a strong resilience factor. They hone in on that sense of community that can be built upon shared cultural experiences.”
For more information about the Ch’anik’en Home Visiting Program, contact Joni Bennett via email or at 907-793-3180.
CITC is a tribal nonprofit organization serving Alaska Native and American Indian people residing in the Cook Inlet region of south central Alaska. Its services include education, employment and training services, workforce development, child and family services, and support for individuals recovering from addiction, substance abuse, or incarceration. For more information Visit disclaimer page about CITC.
ACF’s Tribal MIECHV Program provides grants to tribal entities to develop, implement, and evaluate home visiting programs in American Indian and Alaska Native (AIAN) communities. The grants are intended to help develop and strengthen tribal capacity to support and promote the health and well-being of AIAN families; expand the evidence base around home visiting in tribal communities; and support and strengthen cooperation and linkages between programs that serve tribal children and their families. Learn more about the program and grantees.