Intern Reflections: 2021 OJJDP Tribal Youth Virtual National Conference

Elise Hocking, Intern, Tribal youth Resource Center

As part of my internship with the Tribal Law and Policy Institute, I had the privilege of participating in the 2021 OJJDP Tribal Youth Virtual National Conference themed, “Shaping Brighter Futures with American Indian, Alaska Native Youth and Tribal Communities- Strengthening Resilience, Promoting Healing, Restoring Culture,” from March 29 – April 2, 2021. The wealth of knowledge shared throughout the conference deepened my understanding of issues affecting Indigenous youth and best practices in addressing these challenges and advancing the conference’s goals of “strengthening resilience, promoting healing, restoring culture” in tribal communities.

The 2021 OJJDP Tribal Youth Virtual National Conference was a powerful week of reflection and collaborative learning. The Day 1 “Panel: Youth Voice” facilitated by Tasha Fridia was the most moving session of the conference for me. Indigenous youth panelists gave voice to the issues impacting themselves and their peers and called for tribal communities to draw on their multiplicity of strengths and forms of caregiving and resilience to support youth in navigating these challenges. By highlighting the experiences of youth, this session reaffirmed my calling to advocate alongside youth and support the sovereign rights of Tribal communities. The panelists connected their values to those enacted by their tribal communities for time immemorial and called upon their relatives, supporters, and advocates to meet the needs of youth today to reproduce brighter Indigenous futures.

On Day 3 of the conference, I presented alongside Anna Clough and Angela Noah during the “Innovative Strategies – Tribal Youth Courts and Peer-Led Processes” session. By sharing models of youth-led justice processes and describing the benefits of centering youth leadership, this session prompted conference attendees to reflect upon the ways in which youth can be engaged in their specific context to hold each other accountable and cultivate strong, connected, and caring communities.

 Anna’s overview of the different youth court and peer-led processes models emphasized youth-led processes as practices of sovereignty, community-building, and harm reduction and reparation. Drawing on her own experience with Chemawa Youth Peer Court, Angela provided insight into the ability of youth court models to build self-esteem, responsibility, and leadership among Indigenous youth.

 In addition to equipping youth with valuable skills, youth court models also allow for a more comprehensive evaluation of harm and focus on skill-building, affirmation, and positive behavioral growth, rather than punitive discipline. Although my experience with youth-led processes is not in tribal communities, I shared that youth-led restorative practices have the potential to harness the collective knowledge of youth to shape plans of repair that are achievable and aim to draw youth further into the community, rather than ostracizing or marking youth as undesirable.

I look forward to continuing to learn and engage this generative and critical work of supporting Indigenous youth and learning through my internship experience with the Tribal Law and Policy Institute.

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