Our Identity as Civic Power

Shodajaay, baalayaa Del ashkootaa Apsaalooke’ (Hello my is Del, I am from the Crow Tribe of Montana Ties in a Bundle Clan)

IMG_0033As a recent college graduate the transition into a long-term fellowship could not have been more supported by the Center for Native American Youth (CNAY) team and the Newman’s Own Foundation Fellowship Program.

Through my short time here at the CNAY, I have been completely inspired by all the amazing Native youth activists, advocates, and partners that come together to accomplish great successes! Any hesitations I may have had were left at the door, as day one had me interacting with the CNAY team and shortly thereafter many of these amazing Native youths. This included interviewing previous Native youth who have completed the Champions for Change Program on their narratives for our founder Senator Bryon Dorgan’s new book. It also included hearing from Mariah Gladstone, a graduate of Columbia University, about her passion for food sovereignty and health and wellness. Mariah created INDIGIKITCHEN, a web-video cooking show that teaches viewers to prepare traditional pre-contact foods for modern, healthy meals.

Through community roundtables I have been able to hear the needs and disparities directly from Native youth. It was not long ago that I faced similar issues while growing up in Montana on an off my reservation. Living there inspired me to become an artist, and ultimately drove me to select CNAY as my host organization for the 2017-2018 Newman’s Own Foundation Fellowship.

Through policy forums I have been able be a part of the dialogue between Native youth, service providers, federal agencies, and stakeholders. It has been truly amazing to see officials walk out of a room with a mission to improve services for Native American communities. CNAY collects Native youth responses on community needs, assessments and by engaging in phone interviews with Native youth. We survey participants like Matthew Richardson, who contributes to tribal language revitalization and community gardening programs. I am humbled to have been able to hear the great work being done in Native communities by Native youth.

The team and I also visited Two-Spirit youth in Minnesota, and heard their great stories of peer support, activism, and community involvement. There we met with community activist Arnold Dahl-Wooley (Leech Lake) who, with his partner Matthew, unknowingly became the first same-sex couple to marry on the Leech Lake Indian Reservation and opened the door for five other same-sex couples to get married within Leech Lake Indian Reservation. The whole trip brought such inspiration!

Along with all the positive and moving narratives and involvement there is still a large gap in the Native American quality of life. These disparages drive our work, and I have had the pleasure of working with my supervisor to provide information on an amazing report Newman’s Own Foundation Fellow, Alumni Bettina Gonzalez, helped write and design.

The non-profit sector is often the road less traveled, but for me, it has been the most inspiring and rewarding journey I’ve had to date.


By Del Curfman NOF Fellow at the Center for Native American Youth at the Aspen Institute, Washington D.C.

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“Group photo from a CNAY roundtable discussion with the summer 2017 INSPIRE George Washington University intern cohort” Photo 2017 Photographer Del Curfman