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OJJDP News @ a Glance March 2024

Tribal Connections: Podcast Captures Candid Conversation Between OJJDP Administrator and Tribal Youth

Photo of the Tribal Youth Resource Center Young Leaders, Colby WhiteThunder, Sydney Matheson, Isabella Fridia, Anagali Duncan, Kaitlin Martinez, and James John II.
TYRC Young Leaders include (from left) Colby WhiteThunder, Sydney Matheson, Isabella Fridia, Anagali Duncan, Kaitlin Martinez, and James John II. Young Leader Sam Schimmel is not pictured. (Photo courtesy of TYRC.)

A new Tribal Youth Resource Center (TYRC) podcast features a talk between OJJDP Administrator Liz Ryan and the TYRC Young Leaders, a group representing Indigenous communities in Alaska, Arizona, Oklahoma, Texas, and Washington State. They met for 70 minutes, discussing OJJDP efforts to engage and support Tribal youth, the Administrator’s thoughts on policies affecting Indigenous communities, and the importance of including young people when developing programs and policies that impact them. 

Questions from the Young Leaders touched on a range of topics—from OJJDP’s priorities to the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), a federal law passed in 1978. ICWA set minimum standards for the removal of Native children from their families and was intended to protect Native youth from policies and practices that broke up Indigenous families and separated youth from Tribal culture and communities. The law has not always succeeded, Administrator Ryan noted.

“For me, it’s critically important that we’re doing everything we can to keep children at home,” she said, “that we are supporting both that young person and their family, and that we are supporting the communities in being able to ensure those services and supports for young people.”

Administrator Ryan said she advocates for Tribal notification by state and local juvenile justice systems—the practice of alerting a Tribe when a Native youth becomes involved in the system, so the Tribe can support the young person with culturally sensitive services. ICWA does not require Tribal notification by juvenile justice systems and it often does not take place, leaving many system-involved Indigenous youth without Tribal support. Administrator Ryan also spoke about OJJDP’s support for Tribal healing to wellness courts, child advocacy centers in Native communities, and the need to ensure that state and county justice systems become “fully competent to serve Tribal youth.”

Administrator Ryan repeatedly underscored the value of partnering with young people, listening to their input, and incorporating their insights and recommendations in OJJDP decisions and programming. Her conversations with young people at the OJJDP Tribal Youth National Conference in December 2022 and the United National Indian Tribal Youth conference in June 2023 were “tremendous learning opportunities for me,” she said.

“One of my big takeaways is a sense of urgency in ensuring that we are doing everything we can to support young people and especially Tribal youth,” the Administrator said. “Hearing directly from young people is something that helps bring that authenticity and that sense of urgency about the need to do everything we can in the work that we’re doing.” She mentioned OJJDP plans to hire a Tribal youth coordinator for the Office and to fund a training and technical assistance provider focused exclusively on reducing disparities experienced by youth of color in the juvenile justice system.

The TYRC Young Leaders thanked Administrator Ryan for her advocacy and her attention to their concerns. 

“A lot of the times, when it comes to the divide between young people and Tribes and the federal government, people don’t understand who we are,” said Sam Schimmel, a St. Lawrence Island Siberian Yupik and Kenaitze Indian from Kenai, AK. “We can’t trust them because they haven’t shown us why we should trust them, and they don’t understand how we live or why our cultures and our ways are important. You know, with your appointment to OJJDP, it’s clear that there is somebody now that does understand the importance of our Tribes, our traditions, our culture, and our young people. And so thank you for being somebody who fights to make sure that our young people are treated the way that they need to be, that they get what they deserve.”

Date Created: March 27, 2024