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California Cultural Exchanges Build Resilience Among Native Youth

The Urban-Rural Native American Youth Cultural Exchange is a tailored wellness program putting urban and rural Native youth together to empower them.

The Urban-Rural Native American Youth Cultural Exchange, or U.R.N.Y.C.E., is a culturally tailored wellness program that puts urban and rural Native youth together to empower them.

“We are encouraging as much engagement as we can within our Native youth’s environments in hopes of strengthening their sense of community and identity,” Jordan Skye Paul, outreach/event coordinator for Scotts Valley Tribal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, told ICTMN. “It has been a powerful experience so far and we hope to continue this for another two more exchanges.”

She’s a member of the Colorado River Indian Tribes and a Nez Perce, Hopi and Lakota descendant, and explained how the participants in the cultural exchanges build healthy relationships; increase their self-image, critical thinking skills, bicultural competency, cultural connectedness, Native resilience; and they are engaged in cultural and therapeutic programs.

Native youth participate in cultural exchange events.

“Although educational elements are integral to our program, our task is not to explain, but to dialogue with, and empower youth,” Skye Paul said. A unique aspect is the program is the use of digital media to “bridge the gap between traditional Native American practices and 21st century technology, such as developing an online Native youth community and using digital stories to promote cultural identity.”

Current exchanges are in progress with about 60 Native youth from the Yurok Tribe and urban intertribal youth of Alameda and Contra Costa communities of the Bay Area in California.

One of those exchanges will be a dinner tonight at the Intertribal Friendship House in Oakland, California, a Native community center that’s been open since the 1970s.

On February 1, the youth will get a glimpse of college life with a visit to Stanford University and University of California, Berkeley where they will meet with Native American students who have presentations planned for the youth.

On Saturday, February 2, the cultural exchange will take the youth to Alcatraz Island where five Native women who took part in the occupation of Alcatraz will speak to the youth about the significance of the occupation to Bay Area Native history. This trip is quite timely, since the graffiti painted by the Native occupiers has been restored by the National Park Service.

The Cultural Exchange is a project lead by the Native American Health Center and their Native Youth Wellness Initiative, a Suicide Prevention project encouraging youth empowerment and strengthening identity. This Cultural Exchange was spearheaded by the Native American Health Center (NAHC) staff- Kateri Chui and Virgil Moorehead and the NAHC Native youth in collaboration with the Yurok Tribal youth as well as Scotts Valley Tribal TANF. Plans for future Cultural Exchanges are being made for May 2013.

Native youth participate in cultural exchange events.

Cultural exchange logo.