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Using Our Roles as Native Professionals to Impact Youth

As Native business owners, program administrators and tribal leaders, how many of us express a great interest in supporting our youth? Most of us place a high value on our youth, and understand they are the key to our future and survival as productive Indian nations. However, how many of us incorporate ways to engage youth in our everyday business and program operations?

Unless you are a program or business that directly serves the younger population. You may find yourself removed from common opportunities to work and engage with the youth in your community. Youth today are facing great challenges. High rates of gang violence, alcohol and drug abuse, teen pregnancy, and perhaps the most devastating is youth suicide.

A recent Associated Press article published in Indian Country Today, entitled: “Alaska Natives see ‘heartbreak’ in suicide rate” cites staggering suicide rates among young Native Americans and brings attention to yet another serious social problem we face in many of our Native communities throughout the nation. It is an important time to reevaluate our roles in supporting our Native youth.

As Native business professionals, some of the important questions we should be asking ourselves are: How can we impact these problems? What can we do, not only within our personal lives, but also within our professional roles and that of our businesses and organizations, to help youth find a more promising path for their future? What are we doing to support the youth in our immediate, extended family units and our tribal communities? We may need to remind ourselves how important it is to take the time to find ways to support and help guide them through some of these challenges. Most of us can probably directly trace our professional growth and development to someone in our past that took the time to support us, or even just provided us with some attention, advice or a vote of confidence. It should now be our responsibility to take the time to support our next generation of business owners and leaders.

There are several ways to support youth, even when our businesses and organizations do not normally include youth-related services. They can include:

1) Develop youth positions and internships within your organization. Even volunteer positions can give them important work experience; also they will have the opportunity to explore a potential career field.

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2) Volunteer (or encourage your staff to) at local schools and organizations. Make presentations, help at events or just spend time with them in their environment.

3) Invite youth groups to tour your business or organizations, explain what you do, they may develop an interest in becoming a future business professional as well.

4) Hold family days or family related activities. This will allow both you and your staff to give time to your children and youth. They will not only be happy to be included but will gain a better understanding of the work environment and your professional role.

5) Consider starting a fundraising program that will support youth, toy or clothing drives, program donations or scholarship funds. You and your staff can adopt a cause. In these tough economic times most nonprofits are struggling for financial resources. Your help, however modest will have some impact.

When engaging youth, it’s important to remember to model positive behavior. This can be helpful in making positive changes for ourselves as well. Knowing that someone is watching us may make us more conscious of what we do and how we do it. These experiences can be as rewarding to us as they are to them. Even with our busy schedules and hectic lifestyles, we must remind ourselves of the important opportunity we have to impact the youth close to us.

What our youth need the most is our time and attention. We need to return to some of our more traditional values in supporting youth and take a stronger position as professionals and business leaders to help impact the social challenges of our youth today. Engaging our Native youth and helping to give them insight into a positive and productive future, through our own experience is an important key. If we continue to experience the devastating losses, how can we ensure the survival of our tribal nations? The responsibility should not be taken lightly; after all they ARE our future.

Lucinda Hughes-Juan has more than 20 years teaching and training in the field of business management, with a focus on Native businesses and organizations. She is an enrolled member of the Tohono O’odham Nation. She holds an MBA in global management, and is currently a Ph.D. candidate in business and organizational management. E-mail her at or visit her website