The Center for Native American Youth & the Aetna Foundation
Through an exciting partnership with the Aetna Foundation, the Center for Native American Youth (CNAY) is bringing to the forefront powerful stories from Native youth and creative ideas to address health equity in Indian Country. CNAY is committed to engaging Native youth in dialogue to better understand the needs and strengths of diverse tribal and urban Indian communities across the United States. To date, CNAY has hosted more than 140 roundtable conversations in 23 different states with youth who represent more than 250 tribal nations. The focus of CNAY’s partnership with the Aetna Foundation is to understand diverse perspectives on health equity and priorities facing tribal nations, as well as identify innovative ideas where technology can play a role in improving the health of their communities. It turns out that youth have a lot to say!
Health Tech Contest
The most recent development of the CNAY and Aetna Foundation partnership was a Health Tech Essay Competition. CNAY asked Native youth to identify critical health issues in their community and share with us their ideas on how technology can serve as a meaningful solution. Thank you and congratulations to contest winners Terydon Hall and Ratu Bolenaivalu!
18 years old
“We need to do something and fast before this drug takes another member of our Blackfeet tribe or hurts and destroys another family.”
Terydon Hall is from Browning, Montana – tribal headquarters of the Blackfeet Nation. Terydon carries a great deal of pride for his community and he values his culture; however one thing he does not value is Methamphetamines (Meth). Terydon has witnessed firsthand the divisive and destructive nature of meth. He watched as a family member went from being a world class bull rider with ten trophy saddles and the title of first Native American to ever lead the world in team roping standings – to grappling with addiction.
Terydon acknowledges the power meth can have over people and the seemingly unshakable nature of the addiction. However, where Terydon sees deficit, he also sees opportunity. Terydon truly believes in the strength of his community and even more so in Native people’s ability to persevere.
Terydon wants to encourage his tribal government to curtail meth addiction on the Blackfeet reservation. He wants to implement policies that work to prevent addiction as well as help those who have already been affected by the drug. Terydon has laid out a comprehensive spectrum of policy solutions. One proposal includes modifying guidelines for assistance programs and tribal employment requirements to include the prohibition of drug use. Another suggestion seeks to implement youth-based prevention programs. He also envisions the creation of a family support network designed to connect families affected by meth to one another. Finally, he wants to work to implement rehabilitation programs for those currently addicted.
“I believe we can use technology to build a Healthier Blackfeet Nation.”
Pee Dee Indian Nation of Beaver Creek in South Carolina
15 Years Old
“When the people of my community can’t afford the healthy foods that our ancestors intended for us to eat, it can force them to eat foods that are unhealthy and cause issues.”
Ratu Bolenaivalu is concerned about a serious issue facing his community as well as other Native communities throughout the United States: Type 2 diabetes. Ratu is 15 years old and has a firm grasp on the importance of making healthy eating choices. He credits his culture for this understanding. Ratu believes in using the traditional foods of his Native community as a natural source of good health. He believes that access to healthy, traditional options like the three sisters – corn, squash, and beans –is critical to keeping Native communities healthy and well.
Ratu views technology as a catalyst in reversing the diabetes epidemic in Indian Country. In addition to an increase in access to healthy foods, Ratu imagines a machine that might one day make diabetes a problem of the past. He pictures a device that makes diabetes testing, treatment, and prevention accessible and affordable for all people. He hopes that the creation of such a machine will help counter the lack of access to nutritious traditional foods that affects his and other Native communities.
“I would like to see these issues addressed as it is important for our people to stay healthy as a community.”