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Native American Youth Tackle Issues Facing Indian Country

Native American youth gathered in Santa Fe, New Mexico to discuss issues facing Native American communities with federal officials.
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The 2011 National Intertribal Youth Summit gave about 175 youth from about 50 tribes the opportunity to address some serious issues facing Native American communities.

Many issues were discussed including youth suicide, bullying, domestic violence, drugs and alcohol, college preparation, and cultural preservation, which is important to Helena Erthal, 16, of the Mooretown Rancheria Maidu Indians of California.

Erthal’s application essay to attend the event was quoted online at and pointed out how important Native American culture is “because the older and older we get, new generations and younger kids don’t know as much anymore. We’re losing our culture, our language, dancing, crafts…”

For 17-year-old Evan Eustace, suicide is “a paramount concern,” says For his senior project at Santa Fe Indian School he studied suicide numbers in his own Zuni Pueblo. According to his research, there were 15 suicides since 2010 just in his pueblo. He presented his project at the summit.

The issue of fetal alcohol spectrum disorders touches 19-year-old Tlingit student Morgan Fawcett personally. When he was 15 he discovered he was born with fetal alcohol syndrome, which explained why he was never able to keep up with his peers academically.

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“We need to begin to address it, not just on the individual level, not just on the community level, but on the national level,” he told the Santa Fe New Mexican.

Students had a chance to voice their concerns to a number of officials including representatives from the departments of Justice, Interior, Health and Human Services and Education, as well as 10 U.S. attorneys including New Mexico’s Kenneth Gonzales.

The summit was held in Santa Fe, New Mexico, July 24 to 28, the first anniversary of the signing of the Tribal Law and Order Act, which strengthened tribal justice systems and ways to fight domestic violence.

“The TLOA brought long overdue reforms that will over time further empower tribal governments, and strengthen their ability to keep neighborhoods safe and hold criminals accountable,” wrote Associate Attorney General Tom Perrelli in a column for Indian Country Today Media Network.

The students had a town hall style session with Perrelli during the summit. They also had regional talking circles where they got to know things about tribes in their areas.

“Every tribe was different in some way,” Erthal told Whether those differences were in the issues each tribes faces, or in customs, ceremonies and cultural beliefs. “I learned a lot more about not only our own Native American culture, but other cultures around the United States.”