The 2021 Tribal Youth Virtual Conference took place March 29–April 2. It featured sessions, panels, and workshops to promote the success and well-being of American Indian and Alaska Native youth.
In her welcome remarks, Acting OJJDP Administrator Chyrl Jones spoke of OJJDP’s ongoing support for tribal youth and collaboration with American Indian and Alaska Native communities.
The Office has supported American Indian and Alaska Native youth and families for many years through initiatives such as youth mentoring and leadership programs, afterschool programs, and interventions for youth impacted by substance abuse. In fiscal year (FY) 2020, OJJDP awarded more than $7 million to fund these efforts under the Tribal Youth Program and Tribal Juvenile Healing to Wellness Courts program.
To ensure that child abuse victims in even the most remote areas receive the services they need to heal and thrive, the Office provided $14.3 million in FY 2020 to expand the operations of children’s advocacy centers in Alaska and Indian country. OJJDP also awarded $500,000 each to two tribes under the Delinquency Prevention program to help the tribes enhance their responses to juvenile delinquency in their communities.
Acting Administrator Jones noted that input from tribal stakeholders ensures that OJJDP’s programs are culturally responsive and meet the needs of youth. She emphasized that “Nothing we do would be possible without the dedication of our tribal partners and the practitioners who carry out this important work.”
In June 2020, OJJDP convened a virtual consultation with 288 tribal leaders and representatives to solicit their input on two provisions in the Juvenile Justice Reform Act and to learn how to improve tribes’ access to federal funding. During the conference, OJJDP staff provided an update on how OJJDP is responding to the feedback received during the tribal consultation and subsequent comment period.
“OJJDP stands beside you as you work with tribal youth and families to strengthen resilience, promote healing, and increase connection to traditional values.”
—Chyrl Jones, Acting OJJDP Administrator
Following the traditional opening, a youth panel discussed their thoughts on tribal justice for juveniles, ways youth leaders can help empower their peers, and their hopes for the future.
The need for technology emerged as an issue, particularly during times of social distancing. A session titled Digital Smoke Signals: Using Technology as a Tool for Engagement highlighted innovative strategies for engaging youth through various telecommunications channels. Another session shared best practices from a virtual youth leadership conference that took place during the pandemic.
Strengthening resilience in youth was a major conference theme. A youth from the Pueblo of Tesuque recounted how personal accountability, goal-setting, and family support helped her overcome challenges and remain engaged in school and in her community. In a two-part session titled Building an Indigenous Resilience-Focused Lens, presenters examined ways to heal and empower youth who have experienced trauma to lessen their risk factors for involvement with the juvenile justice system.
Other sessions focused on integrating culture and restorative approaches in juvenile healing to wellness court practices, building tribal-state relationships to support juvenile justice improvements, and how to recognize the warning signs of a suicide crisis and refer individuals for help.
Four talking circles held on the fourth day of the conference allowed OJJDP grantees to discuss takeaways from the event and identify additional training opportunities and resources for their programs.
On the final day, presenters from the National Native Children’s Trauma Center provided an overview of the center’s work to help tribal child-serving systems—schools, healthcare providers, child welfare agencies, and juvenile justice systems—respond to trauma, depression, and posttraumatic stress disorder among tribal youth.
Almost 800 people attended the 2021 Tribal Youth National Virtual Conference.
The conference agenda, presentations, and videos are available online.
Read the Tribal Youth Initiatives In Focus fact sheet for more details on OJJDP programs that support American Indian and Alaska Native communities.