Strengthening Native American Youth in Arizona

The 25th annual Indian Nations and Tribes Legislative Day held Jan. 15, 2020 at the Arizona State Capitol brought together tribal and state leaders, organizations serving tribal communities, and citizens of the 22 tribes in the state. This annual event pays tribute to the history and culture of American Indian peoples and their contributions to the prosperity and cultural diversity of the U.S.

Legislative Day began with a joint-protocol session hosted by the House of Representatives, with floor privileges extended to tribal leaders alongside their representative(s). This year’s speakers included Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez, Vice Chairman of the Havasupai Tribe Matthew Putesoy and Tohono O’odham Nation Chairman Ned Norris.

The sixth annual Native Youth Know (NYK) Forum, a special initiative for young people, invited more than 140 Native American youth to the Capitol to come together and voice their concerns, challenges and opportunities to make changes in their communities. The forum was established in 2015 by Partnership With Native Americans (PWNA), in collaboration with the Governor’s Office on Tribal Relations, to give Arizona Native youth living in reservations, urban and rural communities an opportunity to connect, communicate and identify their shared concerns, foster intertribal collaboration and promote positive change.

The inaugural forum in 2015 served as a guide for forums and youth projects in subsequent years, after participants voiced their concerns in Indian Country, from preservation of culture and self-identity to resources for economic development, substance abuse, domestic violence, bullying and increased rates of suicide.

This year, concerns about the lack of youth opportunities, the decline in Native language speakers and cultural knowledge, and limited resources were identified as top priorities needing attention. One participant said, “resources on the reservation are different than other communities. We don’t have as much so we see the struggles with youth and the parents. Jobs, services, even stores – if you go to buy something there isn’t much on the shelves.”

The 2020 session ended with an exercise in ideating how youth can make a difference in their respective communities and bring awareness to the concerns they discussed at NYK. Organizers pledged to summarize the forum discussion and share it with tribal, state and community organization leaders and service providers to provide a better understanding of the youth perspective.

Over the past six years, PWNA has responded to the annual forum by funding five youth-led community projects, hosting two statewide youth leadership trainings and conducting a statewide ‘food as medicine’ session. NAU also supported two business plan competitions and helped fund four plans that positively impacted Native communities. Future activities will be formulated based on recommendations made by Native youth at the 2020 forum.

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