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Int J Circumpolar Health. 2013 Aug 5;72. doi: 10.3402/ijch.v72i0.20968. eCollection 2013.

Traditional living and cultural ways as protective factors against suicide: perceptions of Alaska Native university students.

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Department of Psychology, Idaho State University, 921 S. 8th Ave., Mail Stop 8112, Pocatello, ID 83209-8112, USA.



Native peoples living in Alaska have one of the highest rates of suicide in the world. This represents a significant health disparity for indigenous populations living in Alaska. This research was part of a larger study that explored qualitatively the perceptions of Alaska Native university students from rural communities regarding suicide. This analysis explored the resilience that arose from participants' experiences of traditional ways, including subsistence activities. Previous research has indicated the importance of traditional ways in preventing suicide and strengthening communities.


Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 25 university students who had migrated to Fairbanks, Alaska, from rural Alaskan communities. An interview protocol was developed in collaboration with cultural and community advisors. Interviews were audio-recorded and transcribed. Participants were asked specific questions concerning the strengthening of traditional practices towards the prevention of suicide. Transcripts were analysed using the techniques of grounded theory.


Participants identified several resilience factors against suicide, including traditional practices and subsistence activities, meaningful community involvement and an active lifestyle. Traditional practices and subsistence activities were perceived to create the context for important relationships, promote healthy living to prevent suicide, contrast with current challenges and transmit important cultural values. Participants considered the strengthening of these traditional ways as important in suicide prevention efforts. However, subsistence and traditional practices were viewed as a diminishing aspect of daily living in rural Alaska.


Many college students from rural Alaska have been affected by suicide but are strong enough to cope with such tragic events. Subsistence living and traditional practices were perceived as important social and cultural processes with meaningful lifelong benefits for participants. Future research should continue to explore the ways in which traditional practices can contribute towards suicide prevention, as well as the far-reaching benefits of subsistence living.


Alaska Native; cultural ways; interviews; protective factors; qualitative; suicide

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