Native Youth Thrive in Tribal Youth Ambassadors Program

Jayden Lim, age 15, speaks on behalf of 2016 NAHYP Awardee, Tribal Youth Ambassadors. Photo credit: Steven E. Purcell.

We are Indian and we are proud. We still sing. We still laugh. We still dream. We still stand. – Jayden Lim

At the 2016 National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award’s White House ceremony, which honors programs that are national models in the field of creative youth development, Jayden Lim was the youth speaker on behalf of the California Indian Museum and Cultural Center.

Jayden, a young woman from Santa Rosa, CA, shared the stage with First Lady Michelle Obama. With her personal story, Jayden shared the power of the humanities to transform Native youth’s lives:

I am a Pomo Indian from Northern California. In some ways, I am your average 15 year old. I am a sophomore in high school, I love music, and I am currently learning how to drive. In some ways, I am very different from the other students at my school. I run my own DJ business and I work to educate others about California tribal histories and cultures.

With an average graduation rate of 54.5%, Santa Rosa’s Native youth are unlikely to graduate from high school or college. Many are also challenged by high rates of depression and suicide. The Museum’s Tribal Youth Ambassadors program works to combat these challenges by bringing tribal youth together to address their own needs. Ever since engaging these young people after school and in the summer, the Museum has seen 100% of its Tribal Youth Ambassadors program participants graduate—sometimes, with honors.

In this multi-disciplinary program, students aged 9–24 receive humanities lessons, plus Native language, cultural, and multimedia arts training after school, two days a week, for two to four hours. Students learn leadership, public speaking, and presentation skills as well as how to serve as docents.

Students like Jayden gain numerous benefits from the Museum’s positive learning environments. By studying oral history and practicing storytelling, they gain a greater awareness and appreciation of their heritage; they learn their role in promoting intercultural understanding among Native and non-Native communities; they find their voices to express and share their rich history and culture and go out into their communities ready to tackle tribal stereotypes and misinformation.

For Jayden, participation in the Tribal Youth Ambassadors program has empowered her. She feels a tremendous sense of responsibility to dispel misinformation about Native Americans. She advocates for her community, and in her own words, “demonstrates not only how native people survive but how we thrive.”

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