Culture-linked educational program benefits health and well-being of Native American youth

Young Native Americans in the United States experience higher rates of depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease compared to their non-Native counterparts. But a research team led by an Indigenous faculty member at the University of Missouri Medical School found that young Cherokee people who participated in an educational program designed to connect them to their history, language and culture had statistically significant benefits for their health and well-being.

The Remember the Removal program began in 1984 to teach Cherokee youth about the tribe’s culture, history, language and values. It ends with a 1,000 mile bike ride down the road where their ancestors were forcibly removed by the US government in the 1830s.

Results from the program’s focus groups showed that participants felt more confident, better informed, healthier, and more involved in their tribal community. The purpose of this project was to assess the health effects of the program by collecting meaningful quantitative data. »

Melissa Lewis, PhD, Principal Investigator, Assistant Professor of Family and Community Medicine

Lewis and his team collected data from a total of 30 Remember the Removal participants in two separate cohorts. They completed surveys before starting the program in January, after the pre-ride training period in May, immediately after the ride in June, and six months after the program ended in December. The survey questions were designed to measure physical health, mental health, and social/cultural health.

Participants reported lower levels of stress, anger, anxiety, post-traumatic stress, microaggression, and depression, and increased positive mental health at endline compared to baseline. They also reported significantly higher levels of Cherokee identity. The program has also improved healthy eating habits. However, the physical behaviors that improved during the training period did not carry over to the six-month follow-up.

“This study adds to the body of research that supports culture as an essential component of positive health and well-being in Indigenous communities,” Lewis said. “This evidence shows that it is time to elevate Indigenous knowledge and principles of health and wellness in the delivery of health care.

In addition to Lewis, co-authors include Jamie Smith, analyst, MU Department of Family and Community Medicine; Remember Withdrawal Program Alumni and Citizens of the Cherokee Nation Sky Wildcat and Amber Anderson; and Melissa Walls, PhD, Johns Hopkins University.


University of Missouri-Columbia

Journal reference:

Lewis, me, et al. (2022) The Health Effects of a Cherokee Grounded Culture and Leadership Program. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.

Back To Top