Mitakuye oyasin. It’s a Lakota phrase that means “all my relatives,” and it’s used to express the sense of common humanity that binds all people together. For EDC’s Stephanie Autumn, mitakuye oyasin is a byword, guiding her work with tribal communities across the country.
A member of the Hopi Nation, Autumn is director of EDC’s Tribal Youth Training and Technical Assistance Center, a federally funded agency that works across the self-governing American Indian communities throughout the United States to improve juvenile justice systems and health programming for youth.
“Indian country is largely invisible to the rest of the country,” says Autumn. “Our reservations are located in the most remote regions of the United States, and young people here face some tough challenges.”
Building a team
The center’s work is critical. The suicide rate for American Indian youth is more than twice the national average. Rates of drug and alcohol abuse and incarceration among this group of young people also lead the nation. Federal efforts to improve conditions for these young people have been stymied by a lack of understanding between the government and tribal leaders.
But Autumn, who has more than 25 years of experience developing education programs for tribal youth, is in a unique position to direct the center. She has built a team of six technical assistance providers, all of whom live and work in tribal communities, and together, they bring deep knowledge of the community and high levels of credibility to their work with tribal leaders.
Center staff help leaders of 90 tribes across 23 states develop successful health promotion programs for young people. Through site visits, e-mail and phone consultation, and peer-to-peer training, they provide assistance on everything from program start-up to evaluation and sustainability planning.
“All the work we do is relationship-based,” explains Autumn. “Leaders here know they can trust us to work as a team.”
Photography courtesy of OJJDP
Originally published on October 24, 2008