The Northwest Portland Area Indian Health Board (NPAIHB) Visit disclaimer page has a variety of projects in the Pacific Northwest, but one of its farthest reaching projects is meant to improve resilience and life skills among American Indian and Alaska Native. The project began with the creation of a new committee by NPAIHB’s 43 adult delegates that focused on youth issues. The committee saw a need for workforce readiness training among youth so that they could become the next wave of policymakers.
This coincided with ANA opening its Native Youth Initiative for Leadership, Empowerment, and Development (I-LEAD) program to applicants. Funding through I-LEAD has allowed NPAIHB’s vision to become reality. First, youth delegates created a council which would prepare them to become decision makers. Funding also allowed for the administration of a multimedia health resource and the training of 100 youth ambassadors to present on this resource nationwide.
The delegates of the youth council span 43 tribes in Oregon, Washington, and Idaho. Their training focuses on exposing them to leadership and building their understanding of how policy is formed. Their presence also gives youth a chance to be heard in discussing policies which affect their tribal communities; in turn, this increases the community engagement of youth council members and encourages them to continue pursuing leadership roles.
The We R Native ambassadors focus on leadership as well, but through the lens of the wernative.org website Visit disclaimer page . Ambassadors take the phrase, “For Native Youth, by Native Youth,” to heart. They learn the ins and outs of the website, which holds everything from a look at Native cultures to facts on health and relationships, before sharing those with their peers. Ambassadors are not only able to share the material the site holds—and guide other youth in utilizing it—but encourage others to become leaders in their own communities.
Both delegates and ambassadors helped NPAIHB develop a mentoring component of the project in collaboration with the Oregon Health and Science University, called We R Healers. This program runs through text messaging, linking interested youth with mentors who can encourage and prepare them for careers in public health. Though this is the latest prong of the project, the first cohort of 40-50 youth from across the nation have already begun receiving health career coaching.
The Northwest Portland Area Indian Health Board staff plan on finishing strong at the end of their first project year; they are meeting the initial goals for youth involvement in project design and have opened recruitment for all project segments in which youth have already had a say. A new cohort of students for each of the prongs (delegate, ambassador, and mentee), will form over the summer when students are out of school. The tools and resources being developed for the website and the public health training curriculum will be utilized for years to come.
In the discussion of looking ahead, project staff warned those contemplating a similar project to truly really know who their constituency is and what their needs are. “It’s a lot of work to build something they are not going to be responsive to,” said Tana Atchley, NPAIHB’s I-LEAD Youth Engagement Coordinator. “Really involve young people in the planning process.”
Their youth are not only helping to plan projects but to implement them and better their tribal communities. One of the takeaways thus far for staff has been the way that different tribal communities share common themes and desired results in the challenges they face. However, their youth help them to reach that result through different paths that speak to their particular culture. The push for success to better their communities is certainly a sign that the We R Native project is succeeding and is something NPAIHB can be proud of.