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Nation Building for Native Youth aims to strengthen tribes

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. - Justin Hooke, a 19-year-old San Carlos Apache, was looking for something significant to do this summer. Then, Mary Kim Titla nominated him to participate in the sixth annual Nation Building for Native Youth Institute, which was held July 22 - 27 in Scottsdale.

;'It gave me an opportunity to learn about other tribes and share leadership with many other young people,'' he said, reflecting on the intensive six-day experience that engaged 30 Native teenagers in a course on tribal sovereignty. The institute coupled leadership training, team building and challenge activities, and hands-on projects into the mix.

Nation Building for Native Youth is the brainchild of Nick Lowery, former NFL All Pro placekicker and an advocate for tribal leadership from the years he studied in the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.

According to Lowery, the future of sovereign tribal nations depends upon the ability of more than 500 Indian tribes to formally educate and motivate their young people to take on this vital responsibility of leadership, government and tribalism.

Lowery connected with Kiowa attorney Kirke Kickingbird, an early pioneer and author of manuals on Indian law, sovereignty and governance. The two formulated a plan to train American Indians in the foundations of tribal governance, using state-of-the-art motivational methods, then began a fundraising campaign to run the venture.

At the Scottsdale Millennium Resort Hotel, students could be seen wandering around outdoors in small teams, blindfolded and holding onto ropes, as they worked together to solve problems and obstacles without their sight and voice.

''Trust exercises and team building are a big part of our leadership training,'' Lowery said, ''because it challenges kids to tackle the difficult situations in their lives and bond together as leadership teams.''

Several team projects engaged the youth in tasks that required them to use Kickingbird's instruction on treaty and tribal government.

Justin Hooke used his native Apache language to emphasize key points during the institute whenever his project team had to report their progress on clan symbols and the capstone project.

''Because I speak the language,'' he stated, ''I've been asked to talk for the youth at important tribal meetings; and I must combine my eagerness with humility.

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''NBNY allowed me to work with other Indian youth here, our clan, to create a clan seal and how we combined our names,'' he said with enthusiasm as he described an institute project to design a symbol of their replica tribe.

The name of Hooke's new tribe, SACOIS, is composed of the first letter of each member of his clan. The project engaged the youth in a deep discussion about combining important traits and qualities of their tribes to resolve their final capstone project.

''This is what our [Apache] people did a long time ago: they sat together and had discussions and formed a constitution together. I'm very proud of our past leaders,'' he added.

Kim Franklin, a teacher at the Vechij Himdag Mashchamakud High School on the Gila River Reservation and key adviser to the institute, said that the real value to Native youth was the skill growth in public speaking and time management.

''Students were given a lot of choices to acquire new information about tribal government and use it to present their final week-ending project,'' she said, ''and it wasn't forced on them like in high schools.''

Harlyn Jackson, 19, Salt River Pima, emerged during the institute as a ''personality at the podium.'' His clan, Bimaadiziwiin Warriors, argued during tribal council budget hearings for the construction and support of a tribal family center.

Their motto - ''Prevention over correction'' - was used to identify the philosophy of the center as a multidimensional approach to family solutions. When a tribal councilman challenged Jackson by suggesting that the multimillion-dollar facility would ''take away money due him in casino per capita payments,'' Jackson instinctively defended the project by saying, ''If you weren't so selfish, maybe our tribe could preserve its culture.'' The audience howled with laughter, including Jackson and the councilman, and an important point was made.

The event featured visits and emotional speeches by pro football and baseball players who had overcome poverty and inner city turmoil to succeed in life by setting life goals and working hard.

Kickingbird summed up the weeklong experience by noting during the graduation, ''We provided these young people with skills which will lead to tribal nation building ... it's really building the youth who will build the nations.''

Nation Building for Native Youth can be contacted by visiting