Agents For Change: Future Belongs to Native American Youth

Courtesy @standup4theearth / Navajo junior Nadira Mitchell created an Instagram account for youth to share their concerns about environmental issues. She encourages youth to not just share concerns, but also solutions.

Native American youth voices heard at Project Youth ACT hosted by Native Nations Institute Lee Allen

The future belongs to our Native American youth and there are a group of budding social activists who are making their voices—and their concerns—heard.

Project Youth ACT—or Agents of Change within Tribes— recently finished its first class at Native Nations Institute in Tucson, Arizona. “The idea is to build skills in our youth so they can successfully affect change,” said Native Nations Institute Director Joan Timeche, Hopi. “A lot of times our young people have great ideas about what they’d like to see changed. They see things in their community that sometimes affect them personally. This program gives them a way to look at their ideas, dissect them through critical analysis and decide who the players are, what needs changing, and how, and then prepare a message that will tell that story.”

“The three-day workshop invited local Native American high school students, ages 14-18, to attend under a $5,000 grant from Native Americans in Philanthropy and Generation Indigenous,” said NNI Outreach Specialist Danielle Hiraldo, Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina.

Tribal Services Program Coordinator Lindsay Riggs, Diné, said the genesis for the program was “a lot of news recently about the Dakota Access Pipeline and the activism behind it that was primarily started by a Native American youth march to Washington.”

Student attendees represented the Tohono O’odham tribe, Pascua Yaqui, Navajo, and Hopi, including sophomore Sirston Wagoner, Navajo, whose societal concern involved public health. “Politicians are trying to take away the Affordable Care Act that a lot of people depend on for healthcare. My uncle goes through Medicaid to get his diabetes medicine and if they take that service away, he wouldn’t have the money to pay for it and no place else to go.”

Nodding agreement was high school senior Damion Manuel-Mitchell, Pascua Yaqui, whose topic of concern was also from personal experience. “I live with six people in a house that wasn’t built correctly and it’s like that for a lot of other houses on the reservation. We need to fix up older homes and build more new houses. I want to make public my concerns about how people live on the reservation and the problems we encounter.”

Navajo junior Nadira Mitchell has a scientific mind and is concerned about the environment and climate change. “I want to advocate for environmental issues to increase the awareness of climate change in our communities,” she said.

Lourdes Pereira, Tohono O’odham, has feminist concerns. “It’s time for people to start thinking differently about how they see women. It’s time to understand that one sex is not ranked lower than the other and there should be equality between both genders.”

In addition to the process of critical thinking about social injustice and deciding on a cause to rally to, Native American youth also got to collaborate with media professionals to tell their story digitally by learning how to shoot and edit audio and video presentations.

“They ended up with a product, a message in some form—a video, an article, a blog, Facebook, or Twitter feed, whatever they were comfortable with to convey their message,” said Riggs.

As to future such endeavors, “We think the process would best be served by youth taking charge. Toward that end, we’re looking at partnering with local high schools and youth councils to continue that effort,” said Hiraldo.

Among the developed messages in the trial program was that of Nadira Mitchell. “I created an Instagram account where young people can post pictures of themselves holding signs with environmental issues,” she said. “Not only the issues, but solutions to some of the problems or quotes that the writer found important to them. In less than a week, there were more than 100 followers. I also created a poster with a collage of some of the pictures of other concerned young people and I’m hoping to print and share that poster online.”

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