EDC is testing new approaches to empower court-involved tribal youth to take control of their lives—and set a new course for their futures—by reconnecting them with tribal elders and their Native traditions and beliefs.
Once youth land in the juvenile justice system, they often do not get formal treatment to help them turn their lives around. Suicide and substance abuse are prevalent among American Indian youth and can lead to crime-related activities.
“Building a strong cultural identity is essential to helping tribal youth overcome the challenges they face, and to prevent alcohol and drug abuse, truancy, and delinquency,” says EDC’s Anne Wang.
EDC supports the 7th Generation National Tribal Mentoring Program, which pairs youth—some of whom have a history of violence and alcohol abuse—with adult mentors from their communities. The program teaches youth to make positive life choices using the Strong Circle of Relatives program, which helps youth choose a mentor with whom they work one-on-one to learn about their tribe’s history, culture, and values.
“Each tribe’s values and beliefs are part of the program, which begins with a traditional ceremony to solidify the relationship between the mentor and the youth,” Wang says.
Five tribal communities took part in the first year of the program, and five are participating in the second year. The tribal communities are from the Northwest, Midwest, Southwest, New England, and Alaska.
Another program is helping youth literally plant the seeds for better lives and for a greener economy.
The Tribal Juvenile Detention and Reentry Training and Technical Assistance Center at EDC is supporting a new reentry program for detained youth that trains them to create economically sustainable products.
Youth at the Rosebud Sioux Tribe of South Dakota’s Tribal Juvenile Detention Center are learning about gardening, beekeeping, growing soybeans for biodiesel fuel, and sales and marketing. The Mississippi Band of Chocktaw Indians is also participating.
“The Mississippi Band of Chocktaw youth have planted an organic garden of ‘the three sisters’—beans, corn, and squash—with plans to create similar gardens in each of their eight tribal communities,” explains Sue Vargo, also of EDC. “They shared their first vegetable harvest with their Elders program and plan to sell produce next year at their local farmers’ market to generate funds for their program.”
EDC is providing training to help the programs expand and improve. Both programs are funded by the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.
Originally published on January 24, 2011