Understanding the Relationship Between Sense of Belonging and Health in the Blackfeet Tribal Community
Map by Kristen Drumheller
Exposure to adversity and trauma can begin early in life among the American Indian population and persist into adulthood. These exposures have important implications for mental and physical health. Little is known about how positive factors in the social environment may affect the degree to which early life adversity negatively impacts health.
With the support of a Native American Research Centers for Health (NARCH) grant from the National Institutes of Health, Blackfeet Community College (BCC) students recently developed and completed data collection for a research study on stress and health in the Blackfeet tribal community. Initial analyses of this dataset suggest that sense of belonging to the community protects from the negative health consequences of early life adversity. Specifically, tribal members who experienced high levels of childhood adversity but who also report high levels of sense of belonging to their community have significantly lower levels of an immune inflammatory marker of cardiovascular disease risk, compared to individuals who similarly experienced high levels of childhood adversity but who report low levels of belonging to their community.
This project will support ongoing secondary data analyses of the existing stress and health dataset and will develop a second phase of the study, which will further probe the predictors of sense of belonging to the tribal community and how sense of belonging associates with biomarkers of disease risk. Specifically, the project pursues three related aims:
- Aim 1: To work with BCC on analyses of the existing stress and health dataset, focusing on relationships between early life experiences, belonging to the tribal community, and health-relevant biomarkers, and to work collaboratively toward presentation and publication of these findings.
- Aim 2: To expand on the findings from the first phase of the BCC study through development of a second phase of the project in partnership with the BCC students. This project will further investigate both predictors of and outcomes associated with sense of belonging to the Blackfeet tribal community.
- Aim 3: To formulate a Community Advisory Board to develop a proposal for an intervention that would promote positive health outcomes by fostering an increased sense of belonging to the Blackfeet tribal community.
Dr. John-Henderson began her work with Blackfeet Community College students soon after she joined the MSU Department of Psychology in Fall 2016. Prior to this she studied the pathways through which early life adversity shapes health and resilience into adulthood. She continues this research in her SARAH (Stress, Adversity, Resilience, and Health) Lab at MSU.
In all of her research, she is particularly interested in understanding how positive experiences and relationships may confer protection from the negative consequences of trauma or adversity on health. “While it’s impossible to change the past, there’s always the possibility to make changes in the current environment to bring about positive outcomes,” she says, “and that potential is what drives my research.”