July | August 2012

Tribal Youth: Champions of Change in Indian Country
2012 National Intertribal Youth Summit banner

On July 28–August 2, 2012, more than 200 youth and adult leaders from 53 tribal communities across the country convened at the 2012 National Intertribal Youth Summit at the National 4–H Youth Conference Center in Chevy Chase, MD, just outside of Washington, DC. OJJDP partnered with a range of federal agencies to organize the event. (Visit the photo gallery for a full view of the summit's activities.)

Lorna Her Many Horses of the Sicangu Lakota tribe in South Dakota sings The Star Spangled Banner in the Lakota language.
Lorna Her Many Horses of the Sicangu Lakota tribe in South Dakota sings "The Star Spangled Banner" in the Lakota language.
On the opening night of the summit, youth gathered for an evening of round dancing, singing, and storytelling with tribal leaders. In addition, a group of respected tribal leaders shared their personal experiences and words of wisdom about how to create change in Indian country.

Youth later participated in talking circles and attended seminars and lectures focused on civic engagement, conflict resolution, and federal policies affecting Indian country. They met with tribal youth from other parts of the country through sessions on leadership development and issues critical to youth—healthy relationships and lifestyles, education, suicide and substance abuse prevention, cultural preservation, and community development.

Speakers at the summit included local tribal leaders and officials from the White House and the U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services, the Interior, and Justice (DOJ)—including Acting Associate Attorney General Tony West, U.S. Attorney for the District of South Dakota Brendan Johnson, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Justice Programs (OJP) Mary Lou Leary, and OJJDP's Acting Administrator Melodee Hanes. Federal officials heard directly from youth about their concerns in a range of areas, including environmental pollution, gangs, and poverty in Indian country.

Youth and adult leaders gather for a group portrait after a full day of activities at the National Intertribal Youth Summit. Two hundred individuals from 53 tribes across the country participated in the summit.
Youth and adult leaders gather for a group portrait after a full day of activities at the National Intertribal Youth Summit. Two hundred individuals from 53 tribes across the country participated in the summit.
"Because the summit is in Washington, DC, this year, we hope you will go home with a sense of the importance the decisions that are made here have on you and your tribal nation," said Acting Associate Attorney General West. "All branches of government . . . make decisions that impact your lives."

In keeping with the summit's theme, "Young Leaders Shaping Their Communities," youth at the summit gathered together in a 3-hour brainstorming session to develop youth-led solutions to problems in their communities and make commitments to action back home. Plans included using social networking to raise awareness about issues on tribal lands, leading activities for younger children so they stay away from alcohol and drugs, organizing a basketball tournament to raise money for tribal elders, and starting cleanup campaigns to improve the environment.

In sessions entitled "Digital Storytelling," youth worked with Buffalo Nickel Creative, a group that produces Web-based products for nonprofit organizations, to develop a public service announcement video about youth as champions of change in Indian country, which will be released in the coming months. The video created by youth at last year's National Intertribal Youth Summit, "That's My People," may be accessed on the DOJ Web site.

Acting Administrator Melodee Hanes discusses OJJDP's Tribal Youth Program with a youth at the summit.
Acting Administrator Melodee Hanes discusses OJJDP's Tribal Youth Program with a youth at the summit.
On the final day of the summit, youth traveled to the White House and Capitol Hill, where they met with American Indian leaders and staff representatives for Members of the House and Senate.

"It's wonderful to come to Washington, DC, and have a chance to talk about issues on the reservation where we live," said 15-year-old Minnie Two Shields, of the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nation in North Dakota. "And we're talking to people who really care and may be able to do something about it."

Resources:

To read Associate Attorney General Tony West's speech; a blog about the youth summit by Mary Lou Leary, Acting Assistant Attorney General for OJP; and Leary's speech, visit the DOJ Web site. C-SPAN coverage of the summit is accessible online. For more information about OJJDP's Tribal Youth Program, go to the OJJDP Web site.