Tribal Youth Gather for Leadership Conference in Santa Fe, NM

National Intertribal Youth Summit logo
More than 170 tribal youth from across the country joined federal officials, youth advocates, and field experts at the 2011 National Intertribal Youth Summit on July 24–28, 2011, to discuss a range of issues impacting young people in Indian country. OJJDP organized the summit, which took place at the Santa Fe Indian School in Santa Fe, NM.

Throughout the week, youth participated in discussion groups and presentations by their peers and by adults. The discussion groups were designed to positively influence public safety, health, and community engagement; and to enhance leadership skills, promote physical well-being, and broaden youth's knowledge of tribal cultures.

Speakers at the event included local tribal leaders; officials from the White House Initiative on Tribal Colleges and Universities, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and the U.S. Department of the Interior; five U.S. Attorneys; Associate Attorney General Tom Perrelli; and Deputy Associate Attorney General Karol Mason. President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder offered video remarks.

"Across the country, Native American young people like you are doing extraordinary things every day to help solve problems in their communities," said President Obama. "The challenges you face are not small. Solving them won't be easy. But we are making progress, and you're leading the way."

In his message, the President officially launched the White House Native American Youth Challenge, which solicits from youth stories of how they are making a difference in their communities. Selected stories will be featured on the White House Web site, and groups of tribal youth will be invited to the White House to share their story personally this fall in conjunction with activities marking Native American Heritage Month.

The summit also featured presentations and discussions on the following topics:

Native American Crafts photo
At the National Intertribal Youth Summit, teenagers honed their skills in traditional arts and crafts—beading, making moccasins, pottery, silversmithing, drumming, and carving.
  • Tribal education and careers.
  • Pathways to success/mentoring.
  • Personal empowerment and youth leadership.
  • Substance and alcohol abuse.
  • Preventing bullying.
  • Healthy relationships and lifestyles.
  • Cultural preservation.
  • Community development.
  • Environmental protection.

The event culminated with a reflection session led by Mary Lou Leary, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General. In this session, tribal youth teams shared a statement of their proposed commitment to service and leadership back home. Examples of plans for leadership included proposing a tribal leader shadow day for youth to "shadow" a tribal leader in the community, developing an anti-drug policy on the reservation, building a cultural center that also provides health care services and a safe place for youth to go, starting a fitness center to promote physical health; and sponsoring family days.

2011 Close Up Tribal Youth Training in Washington, DC: July 10–13

Mary Lou Leary, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General, Office of Justice Programs (OJP), addresses tribal youth during their visit to OJP.
Mary Lou Leary, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General, Office of Justice Programs (OJP), addresses tribal youth during their visit to OJP.

The Close Up Foundation and the National Congress of American Indians teamed up to provide tribal youth with the opportunity to travel to Washington, DC, to meet with decisionmakers and conduct research, practice basic citizenship and leadership skills, and learn about what leaders, activists, and officials are saying and how they are addressing the needs of youth in Indian country.

On July 11, more than 40 youth visited the Office of Justice Programs, where they were greeted by Mary Lou Leary, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General, Office of Justice Programs; William Mendoza, Acting Director and Deputy Director of the White House Initiative on Tribal Colleges and Universities; and Jeff Slowikowski, OJJDP's Acting Administrator.

During their visit to the nation's capital, youth started working to develop the skills and knowledge to help them become a potent force for leadership in their communities; they will continue this effort in the months that follow.