Intercultural Conversations

Intercultural Conversations (IC) is an annual educational exchange between a diverse group of Native and non-native youth who come together to discuss activism, share culture, and address critical issues facing Indigenous and all peoples. This year, we celebrate the start of the 8th Cohort with 50 participants, a milestone in our larger goal to transform the lives of 400 students within 10 years.

Based on the evidence that exposing youth to cross-cultural issues and contexts will provide a foundation for leadership, IC provides a platform for diverse youth across the nation to learn together through facilitated discussions and accompanying Native American Studies curricula. The IC program fosters future environmental and social justice leaders through talking circle discussions and in-person cultural exchanges.

During cultural exchanges, participants experience profound personal development in their ability to relate to and empathize with others, understand complex issues, and communicate cross-culturally. Native youth are provided the space to share about their culture, communities, and experiences. Non-native youth are able to support their peers and Indigenous communities. All participants leave with developed leadership skills and capacity to understand intersectional environmental and social justice stories critical to the future health and well-being of the planet.

The program returned to in-person cultural exchanges in 2022 marking our first gathering since the Bioneers Conference in 2019. The first convening was the Bioneers Conference at the Palace of Fine Arts, May 12-15. In addition to the regular offerings of the Bioneers Conference (Indigenous Forum, Youth Leadership Program, Breakouts, Interactive Panels, and Art Installations), the Indigeneity Team tailored a Native Youth Leadership track as well as immersion to the greater San Francisco Bay Area urban Native experience which included a curated tour hosted by Ethnic Ties.

Our second in-person exchange was with the urban and rural Native communities in Souththern California June 26-July 3. The youth appreciated the opportunity to continue our talking circle discussions in-person. They also spent their free time getting to know one another and sharing in depth about the topics dear to them.

It is important to note that a handful of our program participants had never been on an airplane before; many had never been to the West Coast, and some had never been to a beach! By the end of the second exchange, reserved students opened up to each other as well as the facilitators in group and small group conversations. The experiences that IC creates for these youth —from meeting youth from other walks of life and cultures to the Bioneers Conference, setting foot on the beach for the first time, visiting a reservation, and college tours— are life changing.

In addition to our in-person circles, highlights of the trip included:

  • Learning to surf with Native Like Water, a non-profit that connects Indigenous youth to water through surfing;
  • Cultural exchange on the Los Coyotes Reservation where students heard traditional stories, listened to bird singers, and learned about the cultural landscape and current cultural preservation initiatives from tribal leaders and youth in the region;
  • Hiking in Torrey Pines to the ocean as well as other ocean activities, swimming, and kayaking;
  • College tours to UC San Diego and Cal State University San Diego, where students met with Intertribal Resource Center staff, students, local Native elders, and played traditional California Indian hand games.

Cohort 8 will continue meeting virtually and then meet in-person for both the California Exchange in the Fall and Bioneers conference in May 2024. Recruitment begins in May will close on August 15th, 2022.

To learn more about this year’s discussion topics and schedule, read our Program Description for Cohort 8.

“Throughout my time in the Bioneers Intercultural Conversations Program, I have had the opportunity to broaden my viewpoint and see the world from a different perspective that reflects the true diversity and uniqueness of the Native American culture. Thanks to Bioneers, I feel like I have gained an amazing experience that provided me with an authentic and valuable education about Native Americans from the Native Americans, themselves.”

-2019 Youth Participant, Oakland, CA

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