HHD's Resources

Strengthening the Futures of Tribal Youth

Strengthening the futures of tribal youth

In an ongoing effort to support Native communities, EDC’s Health and Human Development Division received funding to develop two programs specifically for tribal youth that have committed a crime or offense. These projects aim to change the downward trajectory the youth are on, and help them become involved with their communities in a positive way.

One project will connect 180 tribal youth from six tribes with mentors, and reconnect them with their culture. This project is a collaboration with White Bison, an American Indian organization that creates culturally appropriate programming for tribal communities. Youth participating in the program are allowed to choose a mentor from among the people they know. This feature, aptly called “Strong Circle of Relatives”, is unique from other mentoring programs where youth do not know their mentors in advance and are not involved in selecting them. In Native American culture, all members treat each other as family; this includes a duty to care for the children of the tribe. The Strong Circle of Relatives builds upon the Native American cultural tradition of extended family.

Once chosen, mentors are then trained to work with these youth to understand tribal history, culture and value systems that have guided their people for generations. The adolescents will also have the opportunity to learn from tribal elders and participate in cultural traditions through White Bison’s prevention education program known as “Sons and Daughters of Tradition”. One of the underlying tenets of the program is that reconnecting youth with their culture will help to protect them from the temptations of alcohol, drugs, truancy, and criminal activities. By developing a cultural identity and pride for their heritage, this can motivate them to change their behaviors and make positive choices.

“Some key elements of this program are innovative, and really haven’t been tried before,” says EDC’s Anne Wang, the Associate Project Director. “We think this unique approach—incorporating culture and allowing the youth to choose mentors from their communities—will be quite successful.” In fact, research has shown the longer the mentoring relationship, the greater positive impact on youth. By selecting a person the youth already know as their mentor, they will have the opportunity for developing a longer and stronger mentoring relationship.

EDC’s Health and Human Development division developed and selected the components of this program, and provides training and support to the tribes. The program builds on Indian-developed mentoring models, as well as those developed by White Bison, a non-profit Native American organization.

Using a very different approach, the second project offers culturally appropriate, comprehensive support services along with educational and vocational programming to detained youth from three tribes. EDC’s role is to provide one-on-one technical assistance to these tribes. With an eye to the future, this project incorporates vocational training in green technologies to build the skills of the youth from these tribes.

“What makes this project exciting is that it gives these youth valuable skills that can create viable economic options for the tribes,” says EDC’s Sue Vargo, managing project director. “And green technology aligns well with Native American cultural values.”

Both projects are culturally-based, and the primary staff are Native American. Members from each of the participating tribal nations are involved in running the programs for their tribe. Additionally, EDC has previously worked with several of the tribes, building upon existing relationships.

Given the collaborative nature of these projects, and the sensitivity to culture and need, they each have the potential to impact the lives of these youth in very different, but significant, ways.

These projects are funded by U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. Please contact Anne Wang at awang@edc.org for more information about the 7th Generation Mentoring Program for Court-Involved Tribal Youth. Please contact Sue Vargo at svargo@edc.org for more information about the Tribal Juvenile Detention and Reentry Training and Technical Assistance Center.