By Rebecca Balog, NIWRC, with Tanae LeClaire, NativeLove Project Team
More than ever before, youth-led activism is an important part of the anti-violence movement. As adult advocates, we can expose youth to technical skills and create spaces necessary for them to successfully navigate and impact the anti-violence movement. In turn, youth can mentor adults with their ideas about how they envision overcoming their own challenges, listen to stories shared in their own voices, learn what changes we can make to youth-specific services, and offer insight into how we can successfully engage with youth groups formed to fully reflect and represent their own cultures.
“When we treat each other with respect and value each other, we have the beginnings of ending violence in our communities. Promoting ‘unity’ is how we can accomplish those goals.” - Tanae LeClaire
Youth are ambassadors that represent their own community. As both the future of our movement and experts in their own lived experiences, youth leaders are well-situated to move our work forward. By working with youth collaboratively, we can support the development of peer-to-peer advocacy leadership skills to expand our education and prevention work. Some young people are also great community organizers that can partner with programs to develop new and exciting community outreach activities. The youth leaders in your community are experts in the unique, youth-specific cultural barriers that further marginalize young people who are already at-risk. By engaging with youth leaders, programs can increase visibility and accessibility for youth that are in the margins of the margins in their service communities.
NIWRC talked with Tanae LeClaire, NativeLove Youth Delegate from the Yankton Sioux tribe about important things to remember when planning to develop relationships with youth leaders and planning outreach activities. Are we outreaching effectively? How do youth think we are doing? What can we do better? And what about cross-cultural engagement or culturally specific considerations? Tanae understands that every culture and community has different needs and may make their own recommendations regarding their own group or community. For Tanae, #NativeLoveIs “UNITY” and respecting each other’s cultures.
Q: As a young leader, if adults wanted 360 mentoring with DV/SA service providers on how to engage youth effectively in the way they need it, what would be the first step?
A: I believe the first step would be to understand the history and roots of youth’s culture before inviting them in. The people you are working with are different in each community (especially tribal). A lot of the time there are generic kind of “one size fits all” native approaches and methods that are used by native and non-native programming. I think definitely speaking to community members while using activities and events like beading and crafting circles or athletic activities will help adults seek out successful youth engagement in a more comfortable and familiar environment.
Q: What is the best way to begin?
A: I do think it is always respectable to go through elders and include them in any plans. But nowadays, I believe youth leaders are taking charge of their own fights as well. I would not count out youth leaders directly. They should be your main contact points. Those youth probably have mentors or are connected to the right tribal leaders, traditional, at school, or in the community that have a good relationship and are respected by the youth you will be inviting.
Q: After adults make initial contact with a youth delegate, what should we do next? Are there any important planning tips you think would work best?
A: I do believe it would be best to start out in a smaller group when organizing a larger engagement event. If the goal is to share new ideas, a smaller group would be good to hear from youth, elders, and community leaders. That will avoid it from becoming too overwhelming if there are too many individuals involved early on. The downside to a smaller group is a lack of representation, so it is good to include more than one speaker from different groups, more than one age group, and remember there are certain people who have earned respect and you don’t want to leave them out. The community will respond better if you’ve considered all of these important factors that also are a part of the culture and community. Try not to leave people out that are invested, it can get around. Doing this work in the most respectful way will build trust and show that representation even from opposing or contradictory sides may be a way to hear new ideas that will help the larger community as a whole. It is important to remember than not one group or person that represents all the different parts of a native community.
Q: We know that not every event that is meant for youth participation or youth leadership has a good turn-out, and some may, even unintentionally do harm or offend youth or the people involved. The subject of teen dating violence, domestic violence, sexual, and family violence can be triggering and really hard to talk about. What are your recommendations of what not to do?
A: Youth today have had completely different experiences than other generations. Sometimes there are extreme differences and what happens to one generation can affect another in both good or bad ways. If violence happened to one person it isn’t always the same for the next person, so listening is really important between generations. That doesn’t mean one is more or less than the other or figuring out what to do was easier or harder or is easier or harder today – they are just so different. Things are really different today, in ways some adults have never experienced. So, the way to help is completely different, too. What worked for one group may not be even relevant to the other.
With that, my thought is to not go into spaces assuming you know everything already. When working with youth, you have to go in as a teacher and a student. Youth are going through things that never existed before and there are so many different forms of teen violence even when adults might think they are silly or “not too dangerous” youth still need to be validated in their trauma as well. One small disclosure could have a huge underlying meaning, remember to be patient and ask questions instead of telling them how to fix it. There are so many things youth go through and there may be a lot of other youth involved affecting things. All of this can be a factor in youth trauma and violence, it may not always be between just two people or at one place – it might be a lot of different places all at once. Youth can learn a lot from adults, but adults can learn a lot from youth, too.
“If violence happened to one person it isn’t always the same for the next person, so listening is really important between generations. That doesn’t mean one is more or less than the other or figuring out what to do was easier or harder or is easier or harder today – they are just so different.” - Tanae LeClaire
Q: Why do you think it is important for generations to work together equally? What do you think is the goal for youth to participate in awareness events, prevention activities, and education engagement sessions?
A: I think the goal is the same for everyone. We all want to educate. We all want to end the cycle of violence for our people, our friends and families, and ourselves. There is so much change happening. People are talking about it in a lot of different ways. I think youth are seeing the increase of young community leaders, mentors, and other youth standing up for themselves. They are also standing up for their families, friends, and each other more. I have personally noticed that youth have become their own community. Youth are holding themselves and each other accountable. It wasn’t always that way.
About Ms. Tanae LeClaire (Yankton Sioux)
Tanae is a 2018 graduate of Haskell Indian Nations University and was the 2018 Haskell Homecoming Queen. As the 2017 NativeLove Challenge winner, Tanae represented the Gamma Delta Pi Sorority, an American Indian sorority dedicated to enriching the lives of all American Indian women academically, socially, and culturally. Tanae’s future plans include working for Native people. “By continuing my education and achieving a Master’s degree in social work, I know I can focus on my passion to help Indigenous people in urban areas. My goal is to professionally and with my experience and passion, help those who need support adjusting and transitioning from reservation life to urban areas.”
NativeLove Project (NIWRC) was created to raise awareness and help end violence against Native youth by empowering them to redefine Native Love. Those of us in Native communities often hear jokes about “Indian loving” as waking up with a hickey and black eye – that’s not love, that’s dating violence. Our NativeLove project encourages Native youth to think about what Native Love really is, so we can create change in our thinking and restore safety to our communities by restoring our traditional ways of loving, characterized by respect, honor, kindness, family and compassion.
For more information:
- National Indigenous Women's Resource Center (NIWRC)
- Exploring Youth Activism in our Movement: Experiences and Lessons from Youth Leaders
- How can we harness the power of our own trauma histories to build truly intersectional and intergenerational approaches to this work?
- The Ambassador Toolkit: Take Action Against Teen Dating Violence
- Our Gender Revolution: Youth Leaders in Action
- Healthy Me, Healthy We! Self-Care as a Strategy for Promoting Healthy Relationships and Social Justice
- Storytelling as a Tool for Raising Awareness & Inspiring Action
- The Power of Youth Activism