Groups aim to develop new Native
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Condensed by Native Village
Peterson Zah is a special
adviser for Indian affairs at Arizona State
University. For 16 years, Zah has guided and
encouraged Native American youth to become
leaders and help their people.
Zah tells them to get
educated, return to their villages and build
a future on the reservation.
He also warns them not to buy into the
power struggles, corruption, and scandals
that can plague Indian Country.
"I was just agonizing over this,"
said the former Navajo Nation president.
"The only thing you can say is, 'That's one
example of what we need to correct. We're
training you to be different.'
Zah's angst about
breakdowns in Indian country leadership
is shared by other Native
leaders. And the timing couldn't be worse:
America's 565 federally recognized tribes
are pushing for greater sovereignty and
finally have support from the U.S.
"Tribal nations do better when they make
their own decisions," said President Obama
at November's Tribal Nations Conference in
Zah worries these new opportunities will
be lost unless Native Americans inspire
youth to lead their ancient cultures into a
modern world. Tribes and organizations
have begun nurturing their youth with
programs in cultural heritage,
public service, personal responsibility and
Zah says heroes are scarce in Indian
country. Many historic figures came to
tragic ends, and today's reservations are
mired in upheaval. "Particularly with
elected leadership, we just don't have role
models that kids can look up to," he says.
"So, the new generation, they've got to deal
The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that
4,900,000 American Indians and Alaskan
Natives live in the U.S. This is less than
2% of the total population. They
belong to hundreds of tribes with distinct
languages, cultures and circumstances. Yet
all tribes are bonded by a history of
conquest and today's enormous poverty,
dropout rates, crime, alcohol and drug
abuse, suicide and other social problems.
Kristen Dosela, 20, is past
president of the Gila River
Indian Community's youth
council. Kristin began losing
friends in junior high as they
dropped out of school and became
"After eighth grade on the
reservation, kids don't really
focus on education," she says.
"They get into alcohol, drugs,
gangs, getting pregnant. I've
seen it happen to so many
friends I grew up with."
Dosela says developing a
sense of identity and purpose
can be especially tough for
Indians trying to engage the
future while retaining
Dwayne Lopez, 25, is the
youth council manager on the
Tohono O'odham Nation in
Arizona. He says many Native
youth dysfunctional homes repeat
the failures of parents. But
some are trying to break the
"I want to become chairman of
my reservation one day," he
says. "Always remember who you
are and keep your himdag—
what we call culture — within
Peggy Flanagan from the White
Earth Band of Ojibwe directs the
Native American Leadership
Program at Wellstone Action in
Minnesota. Her message to young
Indians is simple: Become active
in the community and avoid
temptations to wallow in
"Civic involvement is a
fertile earth from which
leadership grows," Flanagan
says. "But also know who you are
— your family, your culture,
your values, goals and purpose.
You can't look forward unless
you know where you came from."
Pershlie "Perci" Ami, a Hopi
from Arizona, founded Native
Leadership Pathways in Phoenix.
She warns against resentment
toward whites and urges students
to absorb the good from modern
society and shun the bad.
"If you're blaming people,
they're holding you captive —
and you're never going to
change. " Ami says.