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Extension > Youth Development Insight > Running respectful youth programs during controversy

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Running respectful youth programs during controversy

By Kyra Paitrick

This summer the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in North Dakota has taken a stand against the Dakota Access Pipeline, which when built would convey thousands of gallons of crude oil across the Dakotas, Iowa and Illinois, across sovereign Indian nations. Standing Rock is a sovereign nation and argues that they should have been consulted prior to any approval of the pipeline. According to the National Congress of American Indians, “Self-government is essential if tribal communities are to continue to protect their unique cultures and identities. Tribes have the inherent power to govern all matters involving their members, as well as a range of issues in Indian Country.” The current issues with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and the Dakota Access Pipeline are a good example of how the tribe can exercise their sovereign rights and why these rights are so important to the tribes.

To further their effort, a group of youth from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe embarked on a 2,000-mile long spiritual relay run from their home in North Dakota to Washington, DC with the intention of delivering a petition to President Barack Obama containing 160,000 signatures opposing the Dakota Access Pipeline. At that time, the US Army Corps of Engineers had approved the development of the Dakota Access Pipeline, which would run beneath the Missouri River and along other historically significant sacred sites. The river is the main water source for the Standing Rock community. The tribe is concerned about contamination of their only supply of drinking water and the destruction of ancient burial grounds.

As these events continue to unfold, I find myself contemplating how I am engaging tribal communities in my work as a program coordinator. I am challenged to consider how sovereignty affects the development of partnership. While reflecting on the experiences I have had, I am able to identify some of the strategies that have been used to develop the partnership between the educational institution I work for and the tribe in which I am trying to build programming:

Offering resources and opportunities

Rather than saying, “This is what I can do for you,” I say, “This is what resources and opportunities are available.” This approach opens the door to discussing how the programs may take shape in the community and allows the tribe to maintain control over what opportunities they wish to pursue.

Addressing policy

Both the tribe and educational institution have policies to inform how they operate. At times, these policies don't align. When this happens, the policies are discussed in ways that identify what will work better and how we can navigate the policy together.

Joint decision making

Each side of the partnership has needs and it is important to respect those needs by keeping an open-dialogue and allowing decisions to be made together. When an aspect of the program needs to be changed, improved or better supported, partners must consult each other before making decisions.

Have you developed programming with a new or diverse population? What strategies did you use that succeeded?

-- Kyra Paitrick, 4-H community program coordinator
American Indian youth programs

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7 comments:

  1. Kyra,

    Thank you for writing this wonderful blog post. I can imagine it was difficult to write at times.

    I work with some groups of youth who want to discuss difficult and complex issues (like sovereignty) - but oftentimes do not think that 4-H or after school is the venue. I challenge them to think that this is the perfect space to discuss complex issues.

    What works for me is developing a skill as an active listener (it has also helped me out in my personal relationships as well). I practice listening and reflect on how well it went. I also share my family as well. Family crosses cultures and languages and sharing my family has helped me build trust. I don't often do it intentionally, but through casual conversations about family.

    I am sure you have built up a number of tips as well. What are yours?

    J

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    Replies
    1. Joshua,

      Thank you for sharing your comments. It was difficult to write, because the content is delicate and can be sensitive.

      I have been wondering how we might encourage the adults and youth to find ways to learn about and discuss current events, along with the underlying history and politics that plays into it. I have ideas about how to introduce this...maybe showing videos that are made by the youth from Standing Rock that talk about the importance of the water or helping to start a collection of goods that could be delivered to the camps of peaceful protesters.

      I agree that being an active listener is a good skill to utilize. It removes the perception of us being an authority and rather makes us a learner and a guide. I also agree that family is a universal value in any culture and speaking of our families can break down barriers and humanize us.

      Delete
    2. Joshua,

      Thank you for sharing your comments. It was difficult to write, because the content is delicate and can be sensitive.

      I have been wondering how we might encourage the adults and youth to find ways to learn about and discuss current events, along with the underlying history and politics that plays into it. I have ideas about how to introduce this...maybe showing videos that are made by the youth from Standing Rock that talk about the importance of the water or helping to start a collection of goods that could be delivered to the camps of peaceful protesters.

      I agree that being an active listener is a good skill to utilize. It removes the perception of us being an authority and rather makes us a learner and a guide. I also agree that family is a universal value in any culture and speaking of our families can break down barriers and humanize us.

      Delete
  2. Kyra, thank you so much for this topic--it is so critical because we face so many hot issues that affect us, our partners, and the youth we work with. One of the things I have wrestled with is how to balance the organizational neutrality with the fact that the young people often want to take an active role and position on an issue. Have you grappled with that? What wisdom have you learned?

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    Replies
    1. Kathryn,

      Thank you for reading the post and sharing your comment. I have asked myself how we can use this current event as a learning opportunity with the youth. While understanding that I am a part of the University and would not necessarily take them to join the protest, I may find ways that they can support the protest if that is what they see would be contributing to their community and doing something positive. There are many people from neighboring tribes, including the tribe I work with, that are taking up collections and traveling there to donate and support. They are bringing items like tee pee poles and ceremonial items and of course food and water. Youth can learn a lot just in the act of preparing items like this, say why certain items are of such significance. They can learn a lot in the conversation that happens in a group while they are harvesting the trees that make the tee pee poles for example. However, as I have had these ideas, I have not yet had a conversation with the volunteers who are interacting with the youth about how we can engage them in these meaningful experiences. I know there are skeptics who are doubting the tribes will make it through the winter with their protests. Knowing this tells me we still have a window of opportunity to talk about how we can engage youth and possibly find ways to support the community of allied tribes who are camped out in protest.

      Great question Kathryn. I hope I provided some useful feedback.

      Delete
  3. Hi, Kyra. Thanks for your post! I agree that laying our resources and opportunities out on the table for partners to consider, rather than making assumptions about what we can offer is the best way to go. Who are we to say what any group needs or wants? I took this approach with a Native American focused school, and I think it's the single thing that sold them on the idea of partnering. Right away they could tell that I wasn't there simply to accomplish my own goals, but to create a common vision with them for the partnership--and I told them that if this wasn't possible, that I understood and I'd move on to another organization. I think also being so open and upfront about my intentions helped me figure out if they were on the same page in terms of how to partner. I truly wasn't interested in working with them if they only wanted us as a "service provider," or a program that could fill a gap in their schedule. And as it turned out, they really weren't interested in another organization that was going to come in and try to "save" their kids. That honesty helped to build the partnership on a foundation of trust from both perspectives. Where I think it got a little hard was when we had to negotiate those policy issues you talk about. By the time those issues came up, it was an entirely new group of individuals I needed to work with (b/c the original group moved on from the school). I learned I should have negotiated those upfront as well.

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    Replies
    1. Jessica,

      Your story highlights so many aspects of what I wrote about. I really appreciate you sharing it. Everything you said is true in most cases when building partnerships with American Indian communities. Something you mentioned that I didn't think about was making it clear on our side too that we aren't interested in coming in to just be a "service provider". It reminds me that we need to identify what is important on each side and lay it out on the table.

      Delete

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