Cover: Unveiling an 'Invisible Population'

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 Feb 28, 2019

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


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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