Before Deanna Beck had ever heard of the 1998 ACE study, before she became principal of Northwood ABC Elementary School in Anchorage, she was a special education teacher who saw the ways trauma scrawled through her students’ lives.
On the one-minute reading tests Beck administered, she would notice steady progress—40 words a minute, then 50—followed by dramatic drops; a child would suddenly be stumbling along at three or four words a minute.
She began to ask the kids what had happened. “My mom’s boyfriend was over last night…We had to go to the shelter…I didn’t get any sleep.” Beck started asking more questions in an effort to know her students better.
Before the Alaska Resilience Initiative could push forward on any of its goals—to grow a sustainable statewide network; to educate all Alaskans on brain development, ACEs and resilience-building; and to support organizational, policy and practice change to address trauma—its leaders had to start by listening.
Specifically, they had to listen to Alaska Native people.
Alaska Native people comprise nearly one-fifth of the state’s population, but historically their voices have been largely excluded from decision-making about social services, education and behavioral health.
That’s why Laura Norton-Cruz, program director of the Alaska Resilience Initiative, partnered with First Alaskans Institute and the Chickaloon Village Traditional Council on a May 2016 gathering that put Native perspectives, customs, history and hopes at the center.
Trevor Storrs likes to put an Alaskan spin on that oft-told allegory about the babies being swept downstream. In the story, rescuers keep pulling babies out of the current until someone finally decides to go upstream and learn why they’re being tossed in the water in the first place.
Storrs, executive director of the Alaska Children’s Trust (ACT), would go one step further: to the stream’s source, to find out why the glacier is melting and stop the flow.
In the largest state of the United States, a place where ACEs are high and population density is low, Storrs believes it’s critical to understand the historical trauma inflicted by decades of colonization, racism and efforts to erase Native languages, cultures and spiritual practices.
“Here in Alaska we talk about adversity to the child, the culture and the community,” he said.
The Health Federation of Philadelphia serves as a keystone supporting a network of Community Health Centers as well as the broader base of public and private-sector organizations that deliver health and human services to vulnerable populations.