Like many students, Kaitlin Martinez felt overwhelmed when she started college—as if “the world was going too fast for me,” she recalled during a recent webinar hosted by OJJDP’s Tribal Youth Resource Center. As a Native youth, Ms. Martinez knew she could turn to Tribal mentors for support. Leaning on them helped her regain confidence and find her bearings, she said.
“They helped [me] ground myself and really reminded me of who I am and all the possibilities there are for me out there,” Ms. Martinez told attendees of the Tribal Mentoring Models and Approaches for Native Youth Wellness webinar in August. “[That’s] something I have carried on into my life.”
Ms. Martinez is a youth ambassador-mentor for the Tribal Youth Resource Center. Youth mentoring is closely integrated into Native culture—considered key to strengthening communities and helping develop leaders who embrace Indigenous values. It also helps preserve Tribal languages and culture.
“It is really the fabric that holds our communities together,” youth ambassador Sam Schimmel said during the webinar. Ordinary activities—such as spending time with older relatives or listening to Tribal elders talk about their heritage—are a form of mentoring, he said. “Within those experiences, you have traditions and knowledge passed down on how to defend our communities, on how to ensure that our communities have what they need.”
“Really, at its core, mentorship is what keeps our communities together.”
—Sam Schimmel, youth ambassador for the Tribal Youth Resource Center
Webinar presenters described the center’s Seventh Generation National Tribal Mentoring Program, which is based on a Native mentoring model emphasizing family, community kinship, and other traditional Native values. Developed with OJJDP funding, the program is designed to help American Indian and Alaska Native youth ages 10 to 18 strengthen their Native identities and connections to their Tribal homelands and communities so they “know they have a place and space in their community,” explained Stephanie Autumn, Codirector of the Tribal Youth Resource Center. The program also emphasizes healing and reducing the impact of historical trauma, she said.
A guide for facilitators outlines 12 monthly group mentoring sessions that encourage youth to explore their relationship to the natural world, their families, peers, Tribes, and the Indian Nation. Youth receive both one-on-one and group mentoring support. Leaders seek to bolster participants’ self-efficacy, encouraging them to see themselves as strong and intelligent, Ms. Autumn told webinar attendees.
“It’s really about being present and being your best self,” said presenter Gerry RainingBird, a training and technical assistance specialist for the center.
Youth ambassador Shace Duncan recalled the time he spent cycling with his mentor during the 950-mile “Remember the Removal” ride in 2021. An annual event organized by the Cherokee Nation, the ride retraces a portion of the Trail of Tears—the route Native peoples were forced to walk when driven from ancestral lands in the 1830s. Along the way, Mr. Duncan’s mentor “really showed me what an Indigenous man is supposed to do, and my responsibility as an Indigenous man,” he said.
The youth ambassadors encouraged peers to seek out mentorship. Mr. Schimmel suggested that young people should identify a Tribal Elder they hope to emulate and develop a relationship by offering to help them with their daily chores. “Make yourself useful,” he said. “Make yourself part of the community.”
The Tribal Youth Resource Center can assist communities interested in adapting the Seventh Generation National Tribal Mentoring program for their own use.