The Center for Native American Youth is committed to serving as a resource platform and strong advocate for indigenous youth across the country. In order to better understand the priorities, needs and successes of Native youth, CNAY spends a large portion of our time on the ground in diverse tribal and urban Indian communities, learning directly from Native young people, as well as the community programs and tribal leadership that serve them.
Our November action research began with a visit to the Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohican Indians’ reservation in Bowler, Wisconsin. CNAY met with after school program staff at the Mohican Family Center to learn about extracurricular activities available to young people within the community. The Family Center provides free wireless internet access and homework assistance for students who need a space to study, a gym and exercise equipment for youth to engage in sport and physical activity, and a hydroponic vegetable garden built, grown and harvested by students. The Center focuses primarily on prevention, so all programming includes an educational component on suicide, drug and/or alcohol abuse prevention.
Next, CNAY visited the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin. We worked closely with Champion for Change Lauren McLester-Davis and CFC parent, Joan McLester (Oneida Nation of Wisconsin), to coordinate this portion of the visit. During our time in Oneida, CNAY facilitated roundtables with students from Oneida Nation High School, Wise Women Gathering Place, College of Menominee Nation – Green Bay Campus, and Lawrence University.
Some of the priorities shared by students included a need for more mental health services, especially those focused on bullying, suicide and self-harm prevention; continued support for initiatives that address dating violence and domestic abuse; application and retention support for high school and college students; cultural education in schools to address racism; more local summer jobs for youth; drug and alcohol prevention; homelessness; environmental protection and interactive financial literacy trainings.
Students were excited to tell us about programs and services that are making an impact in addressing those priority issues. These included free access to local recreation centers, programs like Oneida Youth Enrichment Services (YES) and Wise Women Group, cultural and language initiatives like Music from Our Culture (MOC), and college resource centers that create pipelines to internships and jobs through community partnerships. Youth also had exciting ideas for new initiatives to make a positive impact. CNAY shared how youth can increase their impact by getting involved in the Gen-I movement and applying to be Champions for Change. We look forward to seeing their energy and ideas in action!
In addition to youth roundtables, CNAY met with the Oneida Business Committee to learn about tribal initiatives and policies underway that address the priorities we learned about in our listening sessions with young people. We also held a program roundtable, where over twenty representatives of community and tribal programs and schools engaged in a dialogue about community strengths and opportunities, and exchanged resources to better coordinate youth services.
To date, CNAY has held 147 youth roundtables in 23 states. We send our sincere thanks to the many young people, community service providers and tribal leaders who have welcomed us into your communities to learn how we can support your work to lift up and nurture young people in Indian Country.