Native youth met virtually with OJJDP Acting Administrator Chyrl Jones in February to present their new report, Healing Indigenous Lives Native Youth Town Halls. A summary of youth responses to questions about community safety, community challenges, and youth resilience, the report also includes recommendations to OJJDP for actions to protect Native youth, promote their well-being, and hold youth who committed offenses accountable for their actions.
"OJJDP always values input from the youth we serve," Acting Administrator Jones said. “The observations in Healing Indigenous Lives reflect extraordinary wisdom and insight. It's a resource the Office will rely on for guidance and direction."
The report offers an overview of input from participants at four Tribal youth town halls that were convened virtually in 2020 by the Healing Indigenous Lives Initiative. Combined with an online questionnaire, the meetings yielded feedback from nearly 400 youth.
OJJDP and United National Indian Tribal Youth, Inc. (UNITY) launched the Healing Indigenous Lives Initiative in 2018 to increase engagement by American Indian and Alaska Native youth on public safety issues, focusing on youth justice and delinquency prevention. The initiative relies on peer guides to develop and deliver trainings for Tribal youth. A diverse group of youth leaders and mentors, peer guides are uniquely positioned to shape the initiative because they know firsthand the struggles youth in Indian country encounter as they seek their place in the world, according to Santana Bartholomew, a peer guide from the Pueblo of Pojoaque, NM.
“This report illustrates the passions and desires of a diverse group of Tribal youth. It speaks volumes about hope and commitment.”
—Mary Kim Titla, UNITY Executive Director
Discussions at the Tribal youth town halls emphasized public safety issues, such as substance use, mental health, and coping with trauma. Participants highlighted a need to speak about past trauma as the first step toward healing. "Native youth who share their trauma give themselves permission to be part of the solution instead of carrying crippling shame that can result in risky behaviors," the report states.
Peer guides led the four town halls and later compiled and wrote the report. It includes excerpts from participant responses, supplemented by video recordings of peer guides. In one, Ms. Bartholomew speaks about restorative justice, saying it requires widespread commitment from the community and individuals passionate about healing, and support for youth striving to overcome trauma. "It's really connection that people need when they’re lacking something in their lives," she says in the video.
Youth recommendations address ways OJJDP can strengthen collaborations with Tribal leaders and Indigenous youth; they correspond with suggestions offered by Tribal leaders during the June 2020 Tribal consultation. Recommendations include the following:
- OJJDP should continue to host youth listening sessions and should add a listening session to the annual UNITY National Conference.
- State advisory groups should include a youth Tribal representative.
- State advisory groups should consult with peer guides and local UNITY youth councils.
- OJJDP should incorporate Indigenous culture into its Tribal prevention and intervention efforts.
Tribal leaders will rely on Healing Indigenous Lives Native Youth Town Halls as they design programs and promote the development of their young members, said LorenAshley Buford, a program manager for UNITY. "Youth voice matters," she said. "Hearing and acknowledging what our youth are sharing shows we recognize them as valuable assets as we develop, design, and implement initiatives that will impact their lives."
UNITY hosted a webinar series in 2021 to address concerns raised by Tribal youth during the town halls. Read about the series in the July/August issue of OJJDP News @ a Glance.