On Tuesday, November 12th, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention had the pleasure of attending a panel discussion hosted by the Aspen Institutes’ Center for Native American Youth for their inaugural Champions for Change of 2013.
Moderated by the Center’s founder, former Senator Byron L. Dorgan (ND), the Center honored 5 Native youth from all over the country for their incredible work both in their communities and on a federal level. The Champions included Dahkota Brown, member of the Wilton Miwok tribe from California, created a peer-to-peer study group for Native youth called NERDS (Native Education Raising Dedicated Students); Cierra Fields, member of the Cherokee Nation from Oklahoma, is a melanoma cancer survivor who travels the country to promote healthy lifestyles and raise awareness to skin cancer; Joaquin Gallegos, member of the Jicarilla Apache Nation and Pueblo of Santa Ana from Colorado, has studied the dental status of tribes in the Southwest and used his findings to promote policy changes on the tribal, state and federal level that relates to oral health care; Vance Home Gun, member of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes from Montana, has embarked on a mission to preserve the Salish language by teaching it to Native youth and now oversees teachers in public schools in his community who also teach the language; Sarah Schilling, member of the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians from Michigan, has worked with her peers to create her tribe’s first Youth Council. The Champions and Senator Dorgan discussed issues unique to Natives across the country, including education, employment and teen suicide. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention looks forward to working with the Center for Native American Youth in the future, as well as working with future Champions for Change to address the issues related to suicide prevention and health care.