Recently, the Native American Health Centers in Oakland and San Francisco held their second annual Culture is Prevention Summit for Native American youth ages 18 through 24. The summit was a three-day gathering of youth, referred to as GONA or Gathering of Native Americans.
Originally, the curriculum for Gathering of Native Americans was designed as a prevention for substance abuse and has been expanded and adapted to be used in the workplace, at home, schools, domestic violence situations, the Native LGBT community, and with elders.
The summit was guided by traditional core values and education defined as belonging, interdependence, mastery, and generosity.
Within these teaching principles discussed at the summit, belonging refers to forming strong relationships within the Native community, mastery involves moving through trauma, interdependence is defined as how our community moves out of trauma and sets positive goals for the future and generosity asks Native youth to make a promise to give back to their respective communities, both urban and reservation.
The three-day summit was held in Oakland at the California Endowment Conference Center and at Intertribal Friendship House. It brought together six statewide centers: Sacramento Native American Health Center, San Francisco Friendship House Association of American Indians, Native American Health Center of Santa Clara Valley, Fresno American Indian Health Project, San Diego American Indian Health Center, and United American Indian Involvement, Los Angeles.
Youth were offered practical, traditional and wisdom-based tools for growth and education during the summit and several break-out workshops were offered by noted facilitators that were informative and experiential. There was also a mini-powwow held at the Intertribal Friendship House in Oakland, California.
Some of the workshops offered included Being a Good Relative facilitated by Jeri Brunoe, Combating Native Stereotypes facilitated by tribal youth ambassadors from the California Indian Museum and Cultural Center, Bridging the Gap between Indigenous and Contemporary Values, Youth Personal Balance Tool, Creating a Healthy Self, facilitated by Rose Hammock and several other informative workshops.
Aurora Mamea, Blackfoot, one of the organizers said of the summit, “For our urban area youth this is the only time they have access to traditional practices. It’s a way for our community members to have hope for their future. The curriculum for Gathering of Native Americans is a community defined, evidence-based practice. We want to prove that culture is an important component of health services with strong empirical evidence. That way we can prove to other health providers that we have traditional Native techniques that work.”
The summit kicked off with a mini powwow for youth at the Intertribal Friendship House. A highlight of the pow wow was Juke Jacuma who offered traditional Kumeyaay bird songs. Juke is a member of the Kumeyaay tribe and San Diego Health Center and explained, “I want to give thanks to our mothers, grandmothers, and great grandmothers. Without their knowledge and guidance, I wouldn’t stand here today, singing these sacred songs. I want to show our youth that it’s cool to sing these traditional songs and dance.”
Juke also offered his songs at the opening of the summit before the keynote speakers.
The featured Keynote Speakers for the summit were Kahawani Mona Stonefish, Mohawk and Pottowatomi, and Dr. Andrew Jolivette, Opelousa/African American, a sociologist and professor of Ethnic Studies at San Francisco State University.
Stonefish is a senator of Anishinaabemowin Teg-language preservation and a co-founder of the American Indian Child Welfare Act. She is one of the leaders of anti-violence against all indigenous women.
During her speech, Stonefish said, “I’ve been to many conferences, and culture is the highest standard. Before the settler nations arrived, we had all the knowledge we needed, an understanding of the land, and the water to sustain us. We knew how to raise our children, and women were highly respected and honored. You know you are all very important to your family, your nations, your community. We must never forget who we are, and must practice that. I challenge everyone to go to school, go to college, but know who you are and where you came from as well.”
Dr. Andrew Jolivette, Opelousa/African American, gave a speech entitled, From Culture as Prevention to Culture As Medicine: Centering Indigenous Wellness through knowledge, reciprocity, and radical love.
He offered five recommendations for centering culture as medicine: Understand the land you stand on and the land you come from, center the wisdom of the women and youth in your community both tribally specific and inter-tribally, center ceremony and communal wellness as medicine, foster relational accountability and reciprocity in a spatial context, and center culture in a holistic rather than isolated or additive manner.
Dr. Jolivette also warned about the danger of creating “trauma-based research” in our Indigenous communities rather than researching the strengths, knowledge, and wisdom inherent in our communities in order to move beyond trauma and into thriving.
The Gathering of Native Americans training offers Native American youth summer camps dedicated to teaching traditional practices, a chance to become youth ambassadors, and to learn techniques used as peacekeepers in order to intervene during peer conflict.
Youth are also eligible to work during the summers at their community health and cultural centers, are offered career exploration, resume writing, help with college applications, and are trained to become the next leaders in their communities.
For more information, download their organization's .pdf fact sheet or visit their fact sheet page here - https://store.samhsa.gov/product/Gathering-of-Native-Americans-Fact-Sheet/SMA16-4994.
Nanette is Dakota/Cherokee and German descent originally from Crow Creek, S.D. She has a B.A. and M.A. from UCLA in Theater Arts/Dance and appeared in the original film version of "Carrie" and danced in the film "1941" starring the late John Belushi. She is also a published poet whose work appears in numerous anthologies.