Native Elder and Youth Perspectives on Mental Well-Being, the Value of the Horse, and Navigating Two Worlds


Purpose: Native American youth experience significant challenges to mental well-being. As part of a larger study to evaluate hope and resilience in a Plains tribal population, the purpose of this study was to learn from Native American elders and youths what they feel is needed to for youth to grow up healthy on the reservation, and to identify connections between horse use and mental well-being.

Sample: Six Native American elders and eight Native American youths from the same Plains tribe.

Method: The research team conducted Talking Circles with youths and elders. During the Talking Circles, participants identified community-specific questions for inclusion in a resilience measurement and provided personal stories regarding the relevance of the horse to well-being.

Findings: Both groups felt cultural traditions and language, education, relationships, and interactions with horses have significant roles in enhancing identity development and resilience in youth. However, elders indicated that tribal youth seem to struggle in navigating two worlds. Elders expressed that for youth to be well, they need to return to traditional ways within the realms of culture, language, education, and relationships. On the other hand, the youths were more confident in their ability to navigate two worlds, and wished to seek opportunities to blend their traditional and contemporary lives.

Conclusion: The challenges of navigating two worlds for Native Americans are experienced across generations. Both youths and elders said that resilient youth are able to successfully navigate these challenges when they: (a) know their indigenous identity, (b) participate in cultural activities, (c) have strong family ties, and (d) are able to learn in an environment where their culture is championed. We propose that future efforts must include community-based participatory methods in the development of interventions that include use of the horse to strengthen Native American youth resilience and foster health and well-being.

Keywords: American Indian health, resilience, identity, mental well-being, horses


Authors who publish with this journal agree to the following terms:

  1. Authors retain copyright and grant the journal right of first publication with the work simultaneously licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution License that allows others to share (for non-commerical purposes) the work with an acknowledgement of the work's authorship and initial publication in this journal.
  2. Authors are able to enter into separate, additional contractual arrangements for the non-exclusive distribution of the journal's published version of the work (e.g., post it to an institutional repository or publish it in a book), with an acknowledgement of its initial publication in this journal.
  3. Authors are permitted and encouraged to post their work online (e.g., in institutional repositories or on their website) prior to and during the submission process, as it can lead to productive exchanges, as well as earlier and greater citation of published work (See The Effect of Open Access).