“For all of the youth that have continuously felt disempowered and disenfranchised,I would like you to know and remember: we hear your voice and it is valued” said Representative Deb Haaland in the forward for the 2019 State of Native Youth Report. Every year during National Native American Heritage Month, the Center for Native American Youth (CNAY) puts out a report centered on Native Youth and the issues they are solving in their communities. This year’s report was centered on civic engagement and belonging.
Erik Stegman of the Carry the Kettle Nation and executive director of CNAY joined host Amina Akhtar to speak about the findings in the report. Stegman said, “Invisibility with the general public affects everything that we do.” The report is just one outlet CNAY has that creates awareness and educates people on their work.
In the report, youth leaders like Deenaalee Hodgdon, a Deg Xit’an Athabaskan, Yupik, and Alutiiq youth, are highlighted for their contributions to their communities. Hodgon works to increase indigenous representation in activities like hunting, fishing, and gathering, which take place on native land. “(Re)establishing our relationship to the land for urban and rural Indigenous peoples is intrinsically tied to mitigating the impacts of climate change,” she said.
Elyssa Sierra Concha, an Oglala Lakota youth, returned to her community to help continue the revitalization of the Lakota language as a kindergarten teacher. “I want the students I teach to look at me and see a young Lakota person fluent in our language and proud to speak it. It wasn’t too long ago that Indigenous children were beaten for speaking our language and practicing our ceremonies was illegal.”
Apart from the findings in the report, Erik Stegman also spoke to the importance of including native people in important national issues like climate change. “I don’t think they’ve been listened to the way that they need to be, especially when it comes to some of the solutions that need to be put in place,” he said. We need to make sure they have a seat at the table, because, as Stegman added, “What native youth really bring to the table differently than anyone else… is an ancestral knowledge about the land.”
As Native Youth address the most pressing issues in their communities, they continue to affirm the resilience and strength of indigenous people and their communities.