PREVENTING YOUTH VIOLENCE THROUGH CULTURAL CHANGE
American Indian culture has much to teach us in preventing youth violence, says a researcher at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Mark Mattaini, associate professor at UIC's Jane Addams College of Social Work, has drawn from Native American elements to create "Peace Power" - a strategy for building non-violent communities and reducing youth violence.
Peace Power, a unique intervention program based on behavioral science, applied cultural analysis and Native American tradition, attacks the problem of youth violence at the family, peer group, school and community level. Its goal is to effect a change throughout society.
"Many violence prevention programs primarily rely on the message, 'Don't fight,' but fail to provide positive alternatives for youth to influence their world or alternative sources of personal power," said Mattaini. "Peace Power teaches and supports alternatives for youth and all those with whom they are connected."
Based on the principles of social learning, Peace Power has strong empirical support for its four core strategic practices: recognizing contributions and success, acting with respect, sharing power to build a community and making peace. Peace Power develops alternatives for the community and organizational cultures to avoid the use of violence, threat and coercion.
"These core practices are not separate and independent," said Mattaini. "They are multiple, interwoven strands of an empowered culture of non-violent approaches that can be adapted to a particular organization or community."
Mattaini and his Peace Power collaborators have incorporated several elements of Native American (particularly Pueblo) philosophy and practices into the program's strategy after recognizing the interconnected nature of behavior, environmental conditions and events.
"Peace Power draws upon shared power in building collective power that goes beyond ego," said Mattaini. "Peace Power tools and materials strongly support acting for the collective good, rather than competitive, self-serving and ultimately self-defeating approaches that U.S. mainstream culture tends to foster."
Peace Power provides training, consultation and materials that can be shaped to construct flexible programs that fit the vision of the local community. According to Mattaini, for the strategy to work, it is important that everyone, both youth and adults, be immersed in these practices.
"Integral to the success of the core practices are prompting and reinforcing actions by teachers, parents, staff and other community members," said Mattaini. "Within the overall strategy, each core practice does not stand alone."
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