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This particular section of the website is living and continuously being added to and refined to be helpful for those seeking support and validation in their cultural and language revitalization work.

Mindfulness and Meditation

Mindfulness is defined as, “a mental state achieved by focusing one's awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one's feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.” Mindfulness and meditation are new words, but they are concepts that Indigenous people have been practicing for millennia.  Diving deep into indigenous pedagogy and spirituality, you will find an importance of one’s own emotional and spiritual effect on others. We create this ritual in how we do things. It teaches us how to be in the world. We are mindful beings. We pay attention to what we are doing every single moment and what we are doing. Any time that you do harvesting, cooking, making; do it with a good heart and a good mind. If you can, then you are in that mindfulness space.


Meditation is a mindfulness practice that means to bring awareness to. Prayer is a form of meditation.. When we bring our conscious thought to give positive energy to a person, creation, or situation, there is a lot happening for our own healing. “Neuroscientists have also shown that practicing mindfulness affects brain areas related to perception, body awareness, pain tolerance, emotion regulation, introspection, complex thinking, and sense of self” (Harvard Business Review)

Benefits of Mindfulness & Meditation

  • Increases working memory

  • Increases focus

  • Less emotional reactivity

  • More cognitive flexibility

  • Enhance self-insight

  • Increased morality

  • Increased intuition

  • Increased fear modulation

  • Increased immune system functioning

  • Improved wellbein

  • Increased information processing

  • Better quality of life

  • Higher emotional intelligence

  • Increased social connectedness

  • Reduced stress and anxiety

(Davis & Hayes, 2011)


Indigenous language(s) and culture(s) are proven, in various studies, to improve mental health and wellbeing and even labeled as a "protective factor".  According to the national Center for Disease Control,  "For American Indian and Alaska Native tribes and communities, cultural and traditional teachings and practices are important protective factors that provide their people with strength and resilience to lead healthful lives." (Andrade et. al, 2019). 

Resilience is essentially having positive outcomes in spite of hardships and adversity.  There are four primary factors of resilience.  These factors are: relationships, spiritual connection (culture), self efficacy and autonomy, and self regulatory and adaptive skills (Harvard, 2015).  For the sake of brevity, there is no need to explain how language is connected to culture and spirituality.  Starting with relationships, our languages reflect our cultural values and relationships are very important in many Indigenous cultures.  In my Okanagan Salish language, the word for family, snəqsílxʷ, means one body.  In the Coeur d’Alene language, the word for father, pipe’, means generous.  In a more Eurocentric lens, a father is typically viewed as the disciplinarian and authority.  Language shapes and wires the brain to connect with one another on a deeper, collective level.  We are a collective culture.  There was a study around eastern asians and western europeans and they hooked them up to brain imaging machines and told them their mothers were liars.  The east asians brains responded as if you were calling them a liar, but the european brains responded as if you were calling someone else a liar (Park & Huang, 2010).  Our languages are heavily reflective of our culture and having deep meaningful relationships is a part of that.  It can actually change our neurobiology and how we connect and relate to one another.  Living our cultural lifeways can increase social connectedness and positive relationships.

Next there is the self regulatory and adaptive skills, which is basically executive function.  This part of the brain gets damaged in trauma, which was already mentioned that Native children have the highest ACEs scores when disaggregated by race and also experience PTSD at the same rates as combat veterans coming back from the middle east.  In learning a language, this strengthens this part of the brain because part of this function involves utilizing working memory and code switching.  In speaking one language, you have to turn the other off and code switch.  This is like physical therapy for the brain.  The neural infrastructure is very similar to a town's infrastructure.  There are metaphorical hospitals, schools, libraries, grocery stores, gas stations, etc.  When you learn multiple languages, you are building a healthier infrastructure and you have more resources to tap into in order to cope.  It is not just the executive function center that is strengthened, it really is the entire infrastructure.  Not only more resources, but diverse resources like the difference between a rural town and a larger city.  

There are also various studies that demonstrate that children who learn their language(s) have higher levels of self efficacy.  It can also give children higher levels of self esteem.  

“Heritage-language instruction spares the minority-language children the vision that their heritage culture is associated with lower status, and that the majority group is inherently superior to their own group. … The use of the heritage language as the medium of instruction… is a clear affirmation of the value and status of the heritage language and of those who speak it. Moreover, when heritage-language instruction involves co-ethnic teachers, these individuals act as role models affirming that ingroup members can hold high-status positions. (Morcom, 2017)”

“…personal and collective self-esteem have a considerable impact on school success for Aboriginal and minority children, and that this is connected to the presence of appropriate cultural and linguistic representation in the classroom. In cases where the child’s heritage language or culture are absent from the school or represented poorly, the result is often insecurity and lack of engagement.” (Morcom, 2017)


Public school is a cultural experience.  It is grounded in American culture which is a Eurocentric capitalist culture.  This is the place where children go to learn everything they need to know to succeed in life.  When there is strong linguistic and cultural representation it elevates the value of their people which elevates their collective self esteem as Indigenous people, and they inherit that for themselves as individuals.  When that representation is lacking, the results are often insecurity and lack of engagement.

Stability, a basic need, comes from being part of a larger cultural unit and by speaking your language you deepen your identity and feeling of belonging (Solangon, 2019).  It also deepens connection to the land.  In my culture the land and the animals gave us our language.  We also identify ourselves by our landbase.  For example, the bands I come from from the colville tribe are the snʕickstx (people of the dolly varden trout), sx̌ʷy̓iłpx (people of the sharp pointed trees), šntiyatkʷəxʷ (people of the grass in the water), snpʕilxəx (people of the grey mist), and šnpəšqʷawšəxʷ (people of the in between).  Our identity comes from the land and by knowing and speaking the language it deepens our connection to the land which then expands our sense of community and place.  There is a lot of research coming out around place based attachment and that we can bond to land bases the same way that one can bond to their own mother.  I am sure many of you can relate to the loss and grief of losing a childhood home or a piece of land that is no longer accessible that you grew up close to.  Bonding and having a relationship with land has similar benefits to having relationships with people (Wolf, 2014).

Authentic connection to language contributes to each resilience factor and can strengthen people neurobiologically, epigenetically, spiritually, and physically.  Language strengthens youth and it really is about building resilience in mental health, and mental health is the cornerstone of a healthy and abundant life.  Starting with education, studies show that mental health issues are linked to poor educational outcomes and mental health is a predictor of educational achievement.  Studies also show that Native children who learn their language have significantly higher educational outcomes, in particular, immersion education.  Next, there is physical health.  Ancestral and personal trauma can lead to many health issues through epigenetic modification. The hormone cortisol, in toxic levels, weakens the immune system and, "Exposure to stress can modify DNA methylation which may alter gene expression and therefore contribute to disease phenotypes. Early-life stress, such as childhood abuse and stress-related disorders, have lasting effects on methylation that may persist into adulthood" (Vidrascu et al., 2019).  Since language contributes to resilience and is shown to reduce stress, anxiety, depression, and generally improve sense of wellbeing it can have physical health benefits.  It is a domino effect.  Language (and inherently culture) improves mental health, good mental health facilitates mental state conducive to learning and engaging in educational activities, positive educational outcomes then open up opportunities for socioeconomic stability, socioeconomic stability contributes to quality of life, and quality of life reduces stress to increase health and longevity.  Other studies connect language continuity to lower levels of domestic violence, substance abuse, cigarette smoking, diabetes, and suicide (Whalen et al., 2016).

There are substantial economic impacts that language revitalization can positively affect due to its ameliorative effect on trauma.  

Economic development starts with early childhood development, and the best investments ensure all children have access to high-quality early childhood education. Evidence shows that increased access to high-quality early learning and care programs results in short-and long-term benefits to individuals and society. Research shows that for every dollar investment in high-quality early childhood education, society gains up to $7.30 in economic returns over the long term.

Participants in high-quality early childhood education also show long-term gains in the form of lower rates of incarceration (46% reduction), lower rates of arrest for violent crimes (33% reduction) and a reduced likelihood of receiving government assistance (26% reduction).  (Quality Early Childhood Education – Economic Impact).

Mental distress has negative effects on the workplace such as absenteeism, loss of productivity, loss of profits, and increase in health care costs. Research is revealing that “organizations spend over $15,000 on average annually on each employee experiencing mental health [issues]” (McPherson, n.d.).  Many Indigenous communities are impoverished, which can cause stress that leads to poor quality of life and repetition of trauma of the next generations.  Community healing through language and culture can reverse poor socioeconomic trends of Indigenous Communities.

Being on the Land

Connection to the land fosters a sense of identity and belonging as many Indigenous cultures view themselves as part of the land or nature.  For example, the Colville band of the Colville Confederated Tribes refers to themselves as sx̌ʷy̓iłpx in the language, which literally translates as “people of the sharp pointed trees”.  Indigenous lands, nature, and animals are all part of the Indigenous child’s community.  Connecting Indigenous youth with the land and nature supports stability, which is a basic need that has been disrupted by colonization.  “Stability comes from family and community. …Kids and families should be a part of larger units to give them a sense of belonging, tradition and cultural continuity.” (Children's Hospital Colorado, 2019).  It is also important to note that non-Native educators do not need to lead any cultural activities with the child.  Just simply providing the opportunity to interact and engage with nature positively can support this.  That being stated, Native educators leading cultural activities on the land has the most benefits.  

Nature buffers life stress on children and helps to cope with adversity. The higher levels of nature exposure, the greater benefits (White, 2019). Being near water such as lakes, river, streams improve physical health and wellbeing by creating a meditative state that increases happiness and promotes calmness and relaxation.  The sight and sound of water triggers a brain response to produce happy chemicals as well as increasing blood flow to the brain and heart (Nichols, 2015, p. 59).
Place attachment and meaning are the person-to-place bonds that evolve through emotional connection, meaning, and understandings of a specific place and/or features of a place Research reveals that people feel more at ease in the type of landscape they grew up in, and that individuals experience a reduction in stress when they recreate in settings where they feel most at home. (Wolf, 2014)
Other benefits of nature include, but are not limited to: 


“Light signals received through the eye regulation production of melatonin and serotonin for circadian rhythm control and also play a role in seasonal affective disorder” (Baggerly et al., 2015).
Lifelong exposure to greenness in children was associated with higher density of both grey and white matter volume in prefrontal regions” (Dadvand et al., 2018)
A good bacteria in soil increases serotonin production and can significantly improve ones mood and brain function.


Native American/First Nations people are Indigenous collective cultures.  Relationships and community are an important aspect of the culture.  Relationships do not only include other human beings, but with the land and nature as well.  In nqilxʷcn, our word for relative, snaqsílxʷ, means one body. 

  • Positive and supportive adult child relationships are the #1 most important resilience factor (Harvard, 2015)

  • Positive and appropriate physical touch from a caregiver can create stress receptors, epigenetically, to suck up toxic cortisol and return the body to homeostasis (TheIHMC, 2016) 

  • Shaking hands, or hand hugs as we like to call them, is an important cultural practice :“It has been found that touch calms our nervous center and slows down our heartbeat. Human touch also lowers blood pressure as well as cortisol, our stress hormone. It also triggers the release of oxytocin, a hormone known for promoting emotional bonding to others.” (McNichols, 2021)

  • “We feel safest in the presence of familiar and nurturing members of our family and community. These powerful regulating effects of healthy relational interactions on the individual— mediated by various key neural networks in the brain—are at the core of relationally based protective mechanisms that help us survive and thrive following trauma and loss.” (Ludy-Dobson & Perry, 2010.)


The traditional cultural lifestyle of Indigenous people is very physically active.  There is a lot of walking, standing, lifting, packing, pulling, stretching of material, scraping, swinging of tools, digging, paddling, squatting, et cetera.  In addition, there are activities like traditional games and competitions of physical abilities like racing.  

  1. Improved Brain Function

    1. Increased capacity for learning with the growth of an estimated 9,000 cells (neurons) daily

    2. Increased neurons in the hippocampus, the learning and memory center of the brain

    3. Protection of the brain functions for increased health

      1. Increased connections among existing neural pathways

    4. Increased brain organization and integration.

  2. Improved cellular function (learning translates from short-term to long-term memory and learning becomes automatic)

  3. Decreased distraction

  4. Improved process of putting thought into action

  5. Improved ability to put patterns into sequences (letters into words, words into sentences)

  6. Improved Cognition

  7. Enhanced mental performance, memory, learning, attention, decision making, and multitasking

  8. Increased adaptivity, efficiency, and ability to reorganize neural pathways based on new experiences

  9. Increased executive function to enhance higher-level mental skills that inhibit impulses, shift focus, control emotions, initiate, plan, organize, and monitor

  10. Improved arousal and vigilance that in educational terms translates to focus

  11. Improved perception

  12. Improved Memory

    1. Enhanced short-term working memory and increased long-term potentiality

    2. Physiological strengthening of the brain as the result of dendritic branching

    3. Staved-off symptoms and signs of dementia

  13. Reduced Stress

    1. Reduced test anxiety

    2. Decreased symptoms of depression after just three days of exercise

    3. Improved adaptation to challenges in a changing environment

    4. Decreased toxic effects of high levels of stress

    5. Reduced neuronal death caused by chronic stress

  14. Socials Skills/ Behavior

    1. Lower levels of drug use in teens

    2. Better family relationships

    3. Noticeable improvement in key personal, social, cooperative, and communication skills

    4. Improved attention, impulsivity, motivation, self-esteem, and cooperation

    5. Balanced Mood

      1. Improved attention, motivation, self-esteem, cooperation

      2. Ameliorated learned helplessness

      3. Improved resilience and self-confidence

      4. Increased ability to withstand stress and frustration

      5. Fewer behavior problems

      6. Increased coping skills when presented with a new situation

      7. Increased self-discipline and self-esteem

      8. Reduction or elimination of the need for ADHD medications and antidepressants

      9. Regulated mood through the natural balance of neurotransmitters

      10. Regulated sleep patterns for increased alertness during school hours

      11. Intrinsic sense of reward, motivation, and satisfaction

      12. Impulse control

      13. Joyful attitude

      14. Increased state of happiness and life satisfaction

(Geomotion Group, 2012)

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