Indigenous Youth: Challenges and Change

with Nikki Pitre of the Center for Native American Youth at the Aspen Institute

Native American youth face complex challenges and an increased risk of suicide.

Nikki Pitre, Couer d`Alene tribe member and Executive Director of the Center for Native American Youth at the Aspen Institute, joins host Tetiana Anderson to discuss a youth-informed, youth-led survey designed to provide Native American youth with resources they need to create a brighter future.

Posted on:

Oct 31, 2022

Hosted by: Tetiana Anderson
Produced by: National Newsmakers Team

Anderson: About one third of American Indians and Alaska Natives living in the U.S. are under the age of 18. While the majority live in urban areas rather than tribal lands, they face common challenges regardless of where they call home. Hello, and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I'm Tetiana Anderson. Today we're going to talk about a youth-informed, youth-led survey created for Native young people. Joining me is Nikki Pitre. She is a Coeur d'Alene Tribe member and Executive Director of the Center for Native American Youth at the Aspen Institute. Nikki, thank you so much for being here.

Pitre: Thank you very much.

Anderson: So, let's first talk about this survey. What's in it? How does it work?

Pitre: We had launched Center Us: A Native Youth Survey as an opportunity for young people to tell us about issues that they care about -- What are their priorities, what is their geographic location, education attainment, cultural competency, and more. And it's our hope that young people will tell us issues that they care about, and then we can be better data informed, data driven, and return the survey to young people.

Anderson: So, how does this information empower these young people? I mean, what do you want them to take away from it?

Pitre: It's our hope that young people will be able to have a better understanding of their peers, themselves, that they'll be informed on issues that they care about, issues that are impacting their community, and that, in turn, we can provide them the resources and assistance that they need to create the positive change we know they're capable of.

Anderson: There are several challenges that Native youth are facing. One of the most pressing is the risk of suicide. How much was that a factor when you put together the survey?

Pitre: The risk of suicide and addressing mental health disparities among Native American youth is always at the forefront of everything we do. That's why we were founded in 2011, was to address mental health and suicide that's impacting Native youth disproportionately. And so, the Center Us: Native Youth Survey, it's our hope to gather data to understand issues that are impacting communities that may be impacting mental health, and that, from there, we can create a meaningful program and educate others about these disparities that exist and create more brighter futures for Native American youth.

Anderson: This survey that you developed, this tool, was something that wasn't around, presumably, when you were coming up as a Native youth. And I'm wondering what it has taught you about where Native youth are today and who they are as people.

Pitre: The survey has already taught me so much, and we haven't even launched it yet. You know, we had created a series of questions, kicked it over to a series of young people for a focus group about how these questions land on them. Is this survey, as it is, the questions that we have, is it going to help communities? And if not, how can we alter the questions? So it's youth-informed, youth-led. Young people are going to amplify it, and then we're going to return the survey back to young people, return the data back to young people, have focus groups about building narratives of what this data is telling us. It's really important, Tetiana, because we're seeing across our nation young people leading movements. We're seeing historical records in the youth vote. So, we're seeing young people lead protests combating pipelines, addressing climate change, and more. So we know that our young people have a voice, and it's our hope that this survey can be a vessel and a mechanism for them to use their voice as a way to have us create more intentional programing and hopefully have a long-lasting impact that will be shared with policymakers, elected leaders, and more.

Anderson: So, I know that your personal mission is to educate and to empower. And in 2022, you got a new platform to do that. Can you talk to us a little bit about your Goodwill Ambassador role with the United Nations?

Pitre: Thank you so much. Yes, I was recently selected as a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Mountain Partnership. I grew up in the Pacific Northwest, the most beautiful mountainous terrain. But I also saw firsthand the impacts that climate change has had on our communities and in tribal communities that come from mountainous terrains. And so it's my hope that I can use this platform to speak on behalf of indigenous communities to bring cultural competencies and cultural solutions, indigenous solutions, into this space of the United Nations, and also to better understand how indigenous solutions can lead when we're addressing climate change. I'm incredibly proud. I think about my ancestors who came before me, who navigated the mountains since time immemorial, and I hope to be a vessel of them in the work ahead.

Anderson: So, Nikki, I know people are going to want to know more. What's your website? Where can they go?

Pitre: The Center for Native American Youth's website is cnay.org, and from there you can learn more about our initiatives, our programs, the young people that we're serving, and ways to get involved.

Anderson: Nikki Pitre with the Center for Native American Youth. Thank you so much for being here.

Pitre: Thank you, Tetiana.

Anderson: And thanks to you, as well, for watching. As always, for more great conversations with leaders in your own community and across the nation, log on to comcastnewsmakers.com. I'm Tetiana Anderson.

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