Higher education and employment are usually cited as the two main motives for Native people to move to the cities. But often times their hopes and aspirations do not materialize, leaving them desperate for help.
The National Indian Youth Council is headquartered in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The organization works with low-income Native people, many of whom are jobless or homeless – or both. NIYC also has field offices in Gallup and Farmington, New Mexico.
They try to get people off the streets and back on their feet. There are success stories – and of course failures. NIYC has two major programs they offer to qualified participants – classroom training and work experience. They are funded by the U.S. Department of Labor.
“We have two services that we provide to our urban Native Americans. When we have applicants, or participants come in – they need temporary employment or a living stipend,” said Tera Frank, Job Developer for NIYC and a citizen of the Navajo Nation. “The classroom training program is kind of a last resort for those who are in college or want to get their GED.”
Eligibility requirements mandated by the labor department stipulate that a participant must be at least 18 years of age; must be living off the reservation and residing in the urban and surrounding areas of Albuquerque, Gallup and Farmington; they must provide proof of Native American ancestry; and they must be unemployed, underemployed or economically disadvantaged.
“When we start them in the program they begin to feel a sense of empowerment,” said Deborah Tsosie, Albuquerque Field Office Manager also from the Navajo Nation. “We do see the changes, starting from their first pre-application, their first interview.
“By the time we get them three months down the road they’re a completely different person – outspoken, out in the community, confident, and they’re building on their resume.’ It’s very heartfelt,” said Tsosie, from the One Who Walks Around and Red Running Into the Water Clans.
“I came through the program twice,” said Tashina Silversmith from the Navajo Nation, who is now employed full time with the American Indian Chamber of Commerce. “In 2012, I was unemployed and looking for a job. I couldn’t find any employment.
“I went through the (NIYC) interview process and within a few days they were able to place me with a non-profit here in Albuquerque called People Living Through Cancer. They eventually hired me as a full-time employee,” said Silversmith, who is originally from The Twin Lakes Chapter on the Navajo reservation.
“I resigned (from that position) to look for something better because I was only making minimum wage, and came back to NIYC. I started off as a temporary office assistant with the program here and a job opened up at AICC. I nailed the interview and started a couple of days later,” added Silversmith. “A lot of times we don’t realize, as Native Americans living in the city, that we have resources like NIYC.”
“We meet so many of our Native people here who have all kinds of issues and situations. We deal with homelessness, veteran’s issues, domestic violence and substance abuse issues, extensive unemployment or there are family issues – transportation or child care,” explained Tsosie, who added that NIYC was founded in 1961 and those interested in the program shouldn’t let the word Youth in their title throw them off.
“We started off as a program somewhere along the lines of how the American Indian Movement (AIM) started in the 1960s when civil rights were questioned for Native American people. The Indian youth across the country were going on marches, and they were taking part in sit-ins and involved in protests. They wanted to be taken serious. We keep the name out of respect for the founders,” she said.
NIYC, particularly the board of directors, also provides a voice for the Albuquerque Native community on social and political issues – such as police brutality and hate crimes against Natives, as well as health care issues.
“There was a woman who came in, a single parent,” said Frank. “She came in needing employment, needing income. She was considered homeless. I was doing an individual employment plan with her. It gets emotional. She was crying and said, ‘I can’t get a job anywhere.’ She was a bartender and was sick of being in that kind of environment. I placed her at one of our sites and two months later she was hired.”