On June 14, the Center for Native American Youth traveled to Cherokee, North Carolina to connect with youth, staff and community leaders from the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI). The visit began with an invitation to sit in on an official meeting of the Cherokee Youth Council. During the meeting, youth leaders debriefed on recent community events and brainstormed ways to maximize youth engagement. Sky Sampson, director of the Cherokee Youth Council, shared that the Council had received consistent praise from community members who applauded the group’s initiative in undertaking community service activities.
The Council then allowed CNAY’s Amber Richardson to facilitate a discussion on pressing issues experienced by youth at home and in schools. Youth spoke at length about the effects of social media on body image, self-esteem, and mental health. Having identified this issue as a priority, the Council then discussed potential future projects that could reclaim social media as a space for Cherokee youth to find empowerment and community, while working against those harmful effects. CNAY introduced President Obama’s Generation Indigenous as a platform to raise awareness of this issue, showcase the Council’s efforts, and garner support from a diverse network of Native youth leaders.
Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians Vice Chief Richard Sneed joined the meeting to listen to youth and share his own story of overcoming hardship and becoming a tribal leader. He urged the Council to continue to be positive role models and support systems for youth who may be dealing with serious negative influences. He reminded the Council that outreach and inclusiveness are part of good leadership.
Next, CNAY traveled across the state to Raleigh, North Carolina, for the annual North Carolina Native American Youth Organization conference. Attended by over 200 NC Native youth, this event aimed to equip young people with tools and opportunities to enhance their leadership, advance their academic and professional careers, and connect more deeply with cultural resources. CNAY facilitated three conference workshops focused on elevating Native youth perspectives and introducing leadership development opportunities.
Youth attendees identified issues related to school climate as top priorities for NC Native students. Many shared stories of being reprimanded by school administrators for wearing beadwork to school or being denied permission to wear eagle feathers at graduation ceremonies, indicating a lack of understanding and support for these forms of Native youth self-expression. While some youth found strength and community in Native student alliances, others looked to extracurricular groups or individual community members to air these concerns and find community. CNAY shared some of the findings from the White House Initiative on American Indian/Alaska Native Education’s recent school environment report, and informed youth of the process by which they can file a complaint with the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights in order to track and address these incidents.
The workshops also included a segment on oral health in Indian Country, as this topic has emerged as a priority in meetings with Native youth across the US. NCNAYO students were given background on oral health care disparities in Native communities, and learned about the emerging adoption of mid-level Dental Health Aide Therapists as a solution that addresses the significant need, builds local capacity, and reinforces tribal sovereignty.
Before the conference ended, NCNAYO youth had an opportunity to take the #GenISurvey on-site, at the academic fair. Those who completed both Part 1 and Part 2 of the survey received a pair of CNAY sunglasses, and were entered into the drawing to win a head-to-toe Nike N7 gear package. Take the survey for your chance to win!