In Partnership with Gathering of Native Americans
by Angela Gonzalez, Communications Coordinator
In August, RurAL CAP’s Resource Basket hosted a Sacred Rites of Passage training using the Gathering of Native Americans (GONA) training curriculum. The training was held at the Alaska Native Heritage Center in Anchorage. Funding was provided by the US Department of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) with support from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). RurAL CAP’s Resource Basket is a training and technical assistance center helping rural Alaskan communities support the healthy development of Alaska Native youth.
About 40 people attended the Sacred Rites of Passage three day training in Anchorage. Attendees gained an in-depth introduction and perspectives on the first day. Speakers shared a summary of physiologic changes from youth to young adult as a way to help understand the spectrum of life as one goes from one stage to another. People from across the state joined from Point Hope, Anchorage, Fairbanks, Cheesh’na, Old Harbor, Hooper Bay, Slana, Huslia, Nome, Dillingham and a few more communities.
Training participants reviewed traditional and contemporary sacred rites of passage, starting with infancy and childhood, a time when we need to know how we belong. Through cultural stories, songs and activities, team trust was built. Teams examined stages of sacred rites of passage and discovered how it relates to a sustainable and unwavering sense of well-being. They also covered stages of prenatal care to preteens. They talked about honoring conception and birth, menses for females and naming ceremony.
Participants focused on the importance of healing and voicing the trauma that one has experienced, and learned about the timeline of Alaska Natives historical trauma and its impact. They explored how specific sacred rites of passage can give new meaning and healing to these things with the realization that this affects seven generations in both directions (before and after). They then focused on high school to young adults and explored the traumas of the school system.
There was a break out session for the men and women for sacred rites of passage. Participants covered gender specific sacred rites of passage, how they were dismantled or forgotten with the introduction of western ways, what their significance was and how they might be re-created with new meaning in today’s world.
On the last day, participants talked about solutions on how we can individually mend the world as it relates to sacred rites of passage. They came up with ideas on how they could bring rites of passage ceremonies back into their lives.
The Gathering of Native Americans (GONA) curriculum is an effective culture-based intervention. Their approach is built upon the indigenous theoretical framework consisting of three constructs:
- Vision – acknowledging the effects of historical trauma, honoring cultural
values, and developing a vision of success;
- Circles of Relationships – building quality and authentic relationships
for effective work; and
- Sense of Hope – focusing on interconnectedness, the sacredness of the
inner spirit, balance, and the responsibility to be lifelong learners.
The GONA provides an important pathway during which these constructs emerge
and unfold naturally.
In 1992, through the Center for Substance Abuse Prevention (CSAP), the Federal Government initiated a Community Partnership Training project to assist grantees in supporting community efforts to reduce and prevent alcohol and other drug abuse. Around 250 grantees were funded, including approximately 15 American Indian-specific Community Partnerships. CSAP contractors and subcontractors were tasked to develop and deliver training activities to the grantees. These included a variety of institutes and workshops, including four culturally specific institutes, a component of which was called the GONA. Since then, the GONA method of community engagement and facilitation has been used in a wide range of efforts to help move communities toward healing, including those that address substance use, sexual abuse, domestic violence, HIV / AIDS, historical trauma, child welfare, suicide prevention, bullying, grief and loss issues, and a host of other topics. Alaska Native Elder Inez Larsen was one of the people who helped to develop the curriculum. Alaska has certified trainers in Alaska.
About RurAL CAP’s Resource Basket Program
The mission of the Resource Basket is to help rural communities support healthy, resilient and culturally connected Alaska Native Youth. What is the Resource Basket? Tribes and youth-serving organizations in Alaska can request Training and Technical Assistance through the Resource Basket, connect with other Alaskans through the Basket Blog, find news, receive resources and explore opportunities. The Resource Basket weaves organizations and programs, experts and community members as the strands in a basket of hope for Alaskan teens.