Department of Justice Holds Tribal Youth Summit
OJJDP Tribal Youth Program logo

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) hosted a Tribal Youth Summit at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, NM, on July 19–23, 2010. More than 110 American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) youth representing 21 tribal communities from across the nation participated. The youth were nominated by their tribal communities and selected by representatives of OJJDP and the Office on Violence Against Women (OVW).

Speakers on the summit's first evening included Larry Echo Hawk, Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs, U.S. Department of the Interior; Robert Martin, President of the Institute of American Indian Arts; and Wes Studi, the well-known actor, musician, and American Indian advocate. Tribal leaders and elders were involved in many facets of the summit, including special informational sessions and AI/AN cultural presentations.

The summit also featured sessions on the prevention of substance abuse, teen dating violence, and gang involvement. Among other topics covered were strategies for promoting academic success during the middle- and high-school years and career opportunities for youth. Presenters at the sessions included representatives from OVW, the Office for Victims of Crime, the Bureau of Indian Education, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and youth advocate George Galvis.

On July 21, DOJ convened its first Listening to the Voices of Tribal Youth Circle, in which youth from tribal communities across the United States shared their high-priority issues with federal officials. Karol Mason, Deputy Associate Attorney General, Office of the Associate Attorney General; Mary Lou Leary, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General, Office of Justice Programs; Catherine Pierce, Senior Advisor, OJJDP; and Kenneth Gonzales, U.S. Attorney, New Mexico, were among those participating in the Circle.

Tribal communities represented in the Circle included the Absentee Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma, Aleut Community of St. Paul Island (Alaska), Cheeshna Tribe (Alaska), Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, Crow Creek Indian Reservation (South Dakota), Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians (Oregon), Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians (Maine), Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, Mooretown Rancheria (California), Native Village of Kongiganak (Alaska), Northern Cheyenne Tribe (Montana), Omaha Nation (Nebraska and Iowa), Prairie Island (Minnesota), Reno\Sparks Indian Colony (Nevada), Seneca Nation of Indians (New York), and Rosebud Sioux Tribe (South Dakota).

Youth pointed to a wide variety of urgent issues in their communities, including:

  • Alcohol and drug abuse, including prescription drugs.
  • Suicide.
  • A lack of productive activities in the community for youth.
  • Gang involvement, violence, property theft, and vandalism.
  • Teen pregnancy.
  • A lack of job opportunities.
  • Loss of knowledge about and pride in cultural traditions.
  • Racial discrimination in schools and in communities surrounding tribal areas.
  • A lack of positive adult role models.
  • Insufficient housing.
  • Inadequate health care.
  • Gender stereotyping.

The goal of the Circle was to create a venue for communication between tribal youth and federal government staff as a tool in shaping policy and programs that will affect tribal youth for years to come.

"We've talked a lot about some of the challenges your communities are facing, but I also want you to remember that we are deeply committed to providing opportunities," said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Leary. "The Office of Justice Programs . . . is an integral part of the larger Justice Department initiative to provide better services—and easier access to those services—for tribal communities. This session is, in fact, a followup to the regional summits and the listening session the Department held with tribal leaders last year. You are the future leaders, so we really value your perspectives."

A session at the Tribal Youth Summit.

Listening to the Voices of Tribal Youth

"We have [a] growing rate of alcoholism and drug abuse. Even elementary kids start trying these things because it's what they see in their environment."

"Underage drinking, if not controlled, will soon surpass other major problems in my community."

"People are giving up their teenage years when they have children too soon. . . . There is no sense of guidance for people until it is too late."

"The young kids see the older kids that are gang members on the streets and, without their parents around, they look up to the gang members and, more often than not, join the gang."

"On our reservation, suicide has become acceptable and even glorified. We see suicide pacts being carried out. Our loved ones feel as though suicide is the only option to escape the realities of our reservation."

"We have had a nuclear power plant on our reservation for 35 years, and 5 of our tribal members are dying of cancer. As tribal youth, that scares us. We don't want to die from cancer. We want to have healthy children. We want to drink clean water, breathe clean air, and have uncontaminated soil to grow traditional foods."

"Too many people are living with three or four families per household."

"Many young men seem to believe we are still in the era when men and women did not have equal rights."

"Culture isn't being passed on to other generations; elders were discouraged by lack of interest from younger generations and it eventually got lost."