Indigeneity Program Presents Native Youth Leadership Initiative at the White House

On Friday, August 26, the Bioneers’ Indigeneity Program was invited to the White House to share our Indigenous Youth Program with leaders in Washington DC. The #GenerationIndigenous #GenIndigenous event, “Raising Impact with Innovation and Proven Strategies,” was organized by Native Americans in Philanthropy. The event showcased Native American youth programs which are using culturally comprehensive approaches to address the needs of Native American youth.

Our program and story, “Overcoming Barriers to Native Youth Inclusion at Bioneers,” was selected by a youth committee as an example of best practices in Native Youth Career Development and Connectivity in Indian Country. For the past four years we’ve been creating a unique opportunity for Native youth to attend the Bioneers Conference and Indigenous Forum, and we were incredibly honored to be able to participate and share our story of hope, courage and success!

We were joined by eleven other Indigenous Youth initiatives from around the country, including United National Indian Tribal Youth, Inc., Phoenix Indian Center FORWARD PROMISE, We R Native, Oyáte Wóókiye For the People, True North Organizing Network, GWU Native American Politicial Leadership Program, INSPIRE Native Teen Initiative, NERDS: Native Education Raising Dedicated Students, and Cultivating Coders.

For this opportunity of a lifetime, we gathered in the Eisenhower Building, adjacent to the White House in a Press Conference style board room. Each organization had 4-5 minutes to share their story through “lightning round” style presentations. We presented to philanthropic foundations that fund Native organizations, the Native American special advisor to the President, an Advisory Board Member of My Brothers’ Keeper Alliance, and the United States Chief Technology Officer from the office of Science and Technology Policy. This format provided a unique space to share our initiative face-to-face and to connect with our allies doing similar work, allowing us all to learn and be inspired by each other.

One of the many inspirational youth program leaders we met was Noah Blue Elk Hotchkiss (Southern Ute Indian Tribe/Southern Cheyenne/Caddo Nation). After becoming paralyzed in a car accident, Noah has worked tirelessly to bring adaptive sports to Native youth with disabilities.


Noah Blue Elk Hotchkiss (Southern Ute Indian Tribe/Southern Cheyenne/Caddo Nation) addresses the audience.


Our Indigeneity Program Director, Cara Romero (Chehuevi), shared the story of the Bioneers Indigenous Youth Leadership Program. Thanks to tireless support from partners – including the San Francisco Unified School District’s Indian Education Program, the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, and volunteers like you – this program has grown from an initial group of 4 youth in 2011 to over 60 attendees in 2015 and spots for up to 80 Native youth attendees this year! Our main message to funders and allies is that we must collectively create safe and culturally sensitive educational opportunities for Native Youth, where they can see, meet, interact and learn directly from Native leaders. This contact with Native leaders, with whom youth can closely identify, is critical to keeping them engaged in school and career pathways. “If you can’t see it. You can’t be it!”


Bioneers’ Indigeneity Program Director, Cara Romero, shares the story of the Bioneers’ Indigenous Youth Leadership Program

In her speech, Cara also outlined our exciting new plans to bring Native content to a broader audience in 2017 via the internet and classroom curriculum. For more information about Bioneers Indigeneity Program activities, check out our webpage. If you are a Native youth, or know a Native youth who would like to attend our Native Youth Leadership Program at the Bioneers Conference (October 21-23, 2016), please apply through our Indigenous Youth group or individual scholarship applications.  

It was truly awe-inspiring to be in the room with so many accomplished and inspirational change makers from across the US. From the flash presentations, we learned innovative strategies and exciting ideas that we plan to incorporate in the Bioneers’ Native Youth Leadership Program. It was also exciting to share our program with the Native leaders, White House advisors, and Philanthropists who will help spread the word about our work.

As you can see by the transcript we share below, we are very proud of the Native Youth Leadership initiative, and the direction we are taking the program. We plan to extend program activities throughout the school year, via internet-based, open-access media and in the classroom through Native-made and Native-themed curriculum.

Hi, My name is Cara Romero and I am the Director of the Bioneers Indigeneity Program and the Bioneers Native Youth Leadership Initiative.  I am from the Chemehuevi Valley Indian Reservation in Southern California and I’m here with Alexis Bunten who is Aleut and Yup’ik from Alaska. We are honored to be here sharing our story with you.

Native youth of all backgrounds possess the ability to take on leadership roles. However, they also face complex issues of ongoing trauma and barriers to reaching these goals. Along with a vision of what’s possible, Native youth need exposure to many culture-based pathways on their journey to becoming future leaders.  Native youth must gain increased exposure and access to Native leaders, educators and authentic media and curriculum that they can identify with.  This is our overarching goal and mission with the Bioneers Native Youth Initiative.

Over the past 4 years, we have developed a Native Youth Initiative that addresses educational disparities and creates opportunities for Native Youth (both urban and rural) to attend and be empowered at the Bioneers Conference and world-renowned Indigenous Forum. The Indigenous Forum is a sovereign, Native-led educational setting where a powerhouse of indigenous leaders from diverse backgrounds and campaigns converge each year on Coastal Miwok territory San Rafael, CA.  Past speakers such as Oren Lyons, Winona LaDuke, John Trudell, Tom Goldooth , Suzan Harjo, Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, and Naelyn Pike addressing issues like climate change, truth and reconciliation, eco-apartheid, environmental racism, bio-diversity, Native arts, water, food security and women’s issues in Indian Country.  

In 2011, we launched an Initiative for Native youth to receive free registration and support to attend this three-day event of intense indigenous programming. In 2012, we received our first grant from the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians Community Giving Program to fully fund the attendance of 50+ Native youth and have continued to improve, develop and sustain our work with the youth.  From an initial group of 4, the program has grown to engage over 65 Native youth in 2015, many returning and we are expecting nearer 80 in 2016.  And, even more, now that we are taking our content online, we will see a surge in Native Youth served.

We have worked hard to overcome barriers to Native youth inclusion in the Indigenous Forum because it is our shared mandate from our respective Native communities. Overcoming barriers to Native youth inclusion includes empathy, understanding, cultural sensitivity and compassion to hardships so familiar and so traumatic they are too hard for me to share in this space.  We work sensitively and intuitively to identify and alleviate potential hardships for these Native youth to not just attend but to TRULY be available learn at the Indigenous Forum.

We co-own these hardships.  We find resources to problem solve and are at the same time resourceful with what we have.  We partner with other Native youth organizations, directors and chaperones to make this possible.  Together, we work as healers in our collective community–taking many under our wings in the absence of parents, role models and opportunities.  We concentrate on culturally relevant programming. We design Native Youth centered enrichment activities like hands on arts, murals, a digital ambassadors program, ceremony time, and a poetry slam. With help from our partners and funders, we provide financial support to address hardships that inhibit learning like food, camping and transportation.

Support and information like this counters the messages and lessons Native youth learn about their history and cultures in the school environment and media. It gives them confidence, helps them be proud of who they are and supports them in developing positive and balanced messages to share with the world. Our goal is to help them find their voices. Some of our youth have already gone on to become cultural, environmental and social justice leaders in Indian Country. Some of them are in Standing Rock today. we hope to continue to foster new Native leaders.

This year, the Native Youth Leadership Program is expanding into Native designed media and curriculum for the classroom further bolstering the philosophy that Native youth must see themselves and their diverse identities and issues reflected in the content they are learning in order to stay engaged. We believe this kind of educational content will inspire Native youth to become the next generation of leaders in their communities.  We invite you to join us in our initiative for fair and equitable education and opportunities for Native youth at the Bioneers Indigeneity Program.”

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