Unveiling an 'Invisible Population'

Health, Substance Use, Sexual Behavior, Culture, and Discrimination Among Urban American Indian/Alaska Native Adolescents in California

Published in: Ethnicity & Health (2019). doi: 10.1080/13557858.2018.1562054

Posted on RAND.org on February 28, 2019

by Elizabeth J. D'Amico, Daniel Dickerson, Ryan Andrew Brown, David J. Klein, Denis Agniel, Carrie L. Johnson

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There are limited public health data on urban American Indian/Alaska Native (AI/AN) populations, particularly adolescents. The current study attempted to address gaps by providing descriptive information on experiences of urban AI/AN adolescents across northern, central, and southern California.


We describe demographics and several behavioral health and cultural domains, including: alcohol and other drug (AOD) use, risky sexual behavior, mental and physical health, discrimination experiences, involvement in traditional practices, and cultural pride and belonging. We recruited 185 urban AI/AN adolescents across northern, central, and southern California from 2014 to 2017 who completed a baseline survey as part of a randomized controlled intervention trial.


Average age was 15.6 years; 51% female; 59% of adolescents that indicated AI/AN descent also endorsed another race or ethnicity. Rates of AOD use in this urban AI/AN sample were similar to rates for Monitoring the Future. About one-third of adolescents reported ever having sexual intercourse, with 15% reporting using alcohol or drugs before sex. Most reported good mental and physical health. Most urban AI/AN adolescents participated in traditional practices, such as attending Pow Wows and learning their tribal history. Adolescents also reported discrimination experiences, including being a victim of racial slurs and discrimination by law enforcement.


This study describes a select sample of California urban AI/AN adolescents across several behavioral health and cultural domains. Although these adolescents reported numerous discrimination experiences and other stressors, findings suggest that this sample of urban AI/AN teens may be particularly resilient with regard to behavioral health.

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