Youth advocates stress talking about the issues

By Shondiin Silversmith
Navajo Times

FT. LAUDERDALE, Fla., April 17, 2014

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What better way to work with youth than hearing what their needs are. So to help tribal communities engage more with their youth the National Indian Child Welfare Association led a discussion about youth leadership and engagement during their 32nd annual Protecting Our Children National American Indian Conference on Child Abuse and Neglect conference this past week.

To get people talking about the youth in their tribe as well as to offer ideas on how to engage the youth, Melissa Bob, NICWA's director of Community Development for Children's Mental Health and Youth Engagement, and Youth Engagement Specialist Linda Gokee-Randal sat in a circle talking about Native youth.

Bob said the discussion was a way of "helping tribes understand that there are a lot of opportunities to create space for their youth.

"The youth have a voice and we're providing services to youth and about youth so we should really have youth involved," Bob added.

"We want to know more about what's going on in different communities," Bob said, and they want to do that by hearing from people what works, what doesn't and what's needed. "That's what we want to understand. There is so many people there is a great opportunity for that."

"A lot of tribes have traditions where they very deeply honor their children," Gokee-Randal said. "That doesn't really show in tribal government and that's not really a youth friendly environment. Youth do have a voice and they do have opinions and knowledge. I think a lot of people take that for granted or don't think they're competent or smart enough to figure things out on their own.

"They're smart and talented they just need to be given a platform to express their opinions," she said.

The discussion hosted by Bob and Gokee-Randal was called Youth Engagement Collaborative Discussion Group. 
"To plant the idea that youths are experts in their own world and lives," Bob said of the reason for such a session. "We encourage communities to involve them in the services they provide."

Bob said that this discussion was a great way to provide people with resources provided by NICWA but always a way for them to see what's going in different communities.

"We're both from tribal communities so we understand that there are lot of barriers doing work on the tribal level especially for young people. We understand how in communities things can be complex," Bob added. "It's different in every community but we really pay attention to that and make sure we don't overlook anything or create any other problems."

Irene Hunter from the Tule River Tribe in Porterbille, Calif., said she wanted to attend their discussion because she works with the youth a lot and her goal is just to help them have a happy life.

"If we don't engage them we're going to lose them," Hunter said. "Tell them they're important they need to know that. They need to know they are loved and a part of something."

The most interesting part about the discussion for Hunter was being able to hear the different stories from other tribes because there were a lot of things she didn't know. 

"I thought it was really good because I didn't know that other reservations suffered from the same thing. That they suffered from the loss of their children," Hunter said. "We're not in it alone. Indian country is suffering from a lot of things and NICWA getting involved it's going to heal."

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