White House Tribal Youth Summit brings together questions, ideas and solutions | Navajo Hopi Observer ” Alaska

WASHINGTON – Hannah Corbett sat at a table with her colleagues. Each table in the room was asked to answer a series of language revival questions. Corbett and the six others at their table considered what tools or resources were needed in their communities.

Corbett, Cow Creek Tribe, wrote the answers on a large piece of paper with a purple marker.

“Compensation for elders who train.”

“Relevant curriculum and accurate lessons of history.”

“College-level language instruction.”

This was just one of many topics discussed by more than 100 young people from across the country at the White House Tribal Youth Summit. The day-long event featured a range of speakers and topics, from food sovereignty to mental health.

The White House worked with the Center for Native American Youth and the United National Indian Tribal Youth to select participants between the ages of 14 and 24. This is the first in-person forum since 2016. The forum started under the Obama administration and went dark during the Trump administration.

Oliver Tyrrell, Yup’ik, a 16-year-old from Anchorage, Alaska, is an advocate for mental health services, particularly the LGBTQ+ and Two Spirit communities.

“Native Americans and Alaska Natives already have the highest suicide rate, higher than any other rate in the entire United States, and we’re also the least treated group of people,” Tyrrell said. “I have spoken about mental health issues within Indigenous communities, specifically the bias towards Indigenous queer youth. I’ve talked a lot about how accepting and connecting with your cultures can sometimes reduce suicide rates by 60 percent.”

This was one of the issues Tyrrell was able to share with his peers on the forum.

Raised in Alaska’s largest city, Tyrrell acknowledges that he has more access to mental health services compared to other Alaskan Native youth living in more rural areas of the state. Despite this, his high school only recently got a counselor qualified to provide services.

“Unfortunately, many high schools in Alaska don’t have counselors. They may have academic advisors, but they are not qualified to provide mental health care,” Tyrrell said. “I’ve visited a lot of rural villages like Buckland and a lot of other places and they didn’t have a counselor at their school. If so, it was only one person, and unfortunately only one person could do so much.”

Maria Walker, White Mountain Apache, is currently focused on COVID-19. The 23-year-old previously helped with vaccine research in her community. She was part of a team that monitored 50 participants, 25 received the Pfizer booster while the other 25 received a placebo. The team would submit its findings to the Food and Drug Administration, which oversees COVID-19 vaccines.

“We’ve had a lot of deaths and those deaths were mostly elders,” Walker said. “Eighty percent of the fatalities on our reservation were elders. One of them was one of our medicine men. So it really influenced my tribe a lot.”

Walker was selected as one of the Center for Native American Youth’s Champions for Change for her work as research coordinator for her country.

“I just graduated and then COVID happened,” she said. “Being in the hospital as well because I have a job in the hospital has given me a whole different perspective in the medical field. Watching people pass COVID, letting people code blues from COVID and trying to revive it. It was such a different experience. A lot of nurses said to me, ‘Oh my god Maria, you see so much more than I ever did in my freshman year after graduation.’”

The Arizona State University graduate continues to serve in her community.

She helps document the mental and physical impact COVID has had on people in her community. She asks participants monthly how the respiratory disease has impacted or continues to impact their lifestyles.

“Mental health is really going to be impacted post-COVID,” she said. “They have no motivation and get tired more easily. And that has to do with mental health. So we see a lot of that on our reservation.”

Hannah Corbett, Cow Creek Tribe, grew up in Southern California and attends Sacramento State. The 22-year-old is passionate about food sovereignty.

“I grew up watching my relatives deal with obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease,” Corbett said. “Finding ways to connect with our food, where it comes from and how it grows is extremely important. It can allow us to better connect with our communities and heal in our own ways.”

She did not have access to programs around food sovereignty or indigenous foods growing up. Corbett is beginning to see them becoming more common in her area and looks forward to seeing them grow.

“One thing I want to do is have a food demonstration, educate the community about why diet and food is important,” she said.

During the forum, US Department of Agriculture Assistant Secretary Jewel Bronaugh spoke about how the government agency is working to cut red tape that prevents communities from feeding their students traditional foods through the National School Lunch Program.

“I’m very excited about the programs that are coming out now to support local foods and traditions,” Corbett said.

Later this month, the White House will host the first in-person tribal-nations summit for the first time since 2016.

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