United National Indian Tribal Youth, Inc. (UNITY) hosted a five-part webinar series in June and July 2021 to highlight Tribal youth concerns and offer youth tools to address them.
The webinars drew from the feedback of more than 430 youth in Indian country who participated in four virtual town hall meetings held last year by UNITY in collaboration with OJJDP. The webinars and town hall events were part of OJJDP's Healing Indigenous Lives Initiative, an effort launched in 2018 to increase youth engagement on public safety issues, with a focus on juvenile justice and delinquency prevention.
Young adult mentors—called peer guides—led the webinar discussions, which focused on building resilience among Native youth who have experienced trauma and/or aspire to become community leaders. The five webinars addressed:
- Steps for holding community gatherings; establishing safe, welcoming spaces; and starting conversations with peers.
- Challenges faced by Tribal communities, as identified by American Indian and Alaska Native youth at UNITY's annual national youth conferences, such as substance abuse, suicide and self-harm, school dropout and education disparities, cultural identity and blood quantum, and bullying and lateral violence. Peer guides recommended that Tribes hold public forums to address these issues.
- Approaches to assessing a community's resources and identifying its strengths.
- Personal stories of empowerment and resilience. Peer guides discussed both protective and risk factors for individuals, families, schools, neighborhoods, and communities.
- Ways Native youth can create public awareness campaigns addressing challenges their communities face.
At the outset of the Healing Indigenous Lives Initiative, UNITY selected 12 peer guides to serve as project advisors and peer trainers. The initiative is designed to support and enhance Native youth involvement in community support systems and cultural approaches to restorative justice. The peer guides, who received mentoring and training focused on delinquency prevention and youth justice issues in Indian country, lead the initiative's youth-developed projects.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) offers Tribal youth access to prevention, treatment, and recovery support resources.
Supporting and Inspiring Native Youth e-learning orientation provides mentors with tools to recognize the strengths and complexities of Native youth identity. A literature review on the effectiveness of mentoring for American Indian and Alaska Native youth is available on OJJDP's National Mentoring Resource Center website.
Several entities provide training and technical assistance to Tribal grantees, including the OJJDP-sponsored Tribal Youth Resource Center and The Resource Basket, and SAMHSA's National Native Children's Trauma Center.