From poverty to high dropout rates, Native American kids and teens on and off reservations in Arizona often face incredible challenges, according to State Senator Carlyle Begay.
Begay, senator of District 7, grew up on the Navajo Nation and recently announced he’ll be organizing the first ever statewide Native American Youth Summit this April to address some of those issues and empower a new generation of Native Americans.
“We have the largest high school dropout rate of any racial or ethnic group; we have the lowest high school graduation rate,” Begay said. “It should be alarming.”
He’s targeting middle school and high school students from schools on and off the reservation to attend the summit, which is expected to be held at Grand Canyon University on April 30. Begay said he hopes the summit will gather young Native Americans and help them to see that they are the future of their communities.
The summit is planned in partnership with the Governor’s Office of Youth, Faith and Family and the Morning Star Youth Leadership Council, a nonprofit dedicated to Native American youth in the Phoenix area.
Begay said he wants the summit to be completely youth-led. So, the Morning Star Youth Leadership Council picked the issues that they want to discuss at the summit themselves. Those include health issues such as mental health and substance abuse issues, education and scholarships, and social issues like bullying and texting while driving, Begay said.
Begay also said the students are interested in highlighting American Indian policy.
“I think for them it was fundamentally about the importance of how far our tribal communities have come, but also the context of the different areas of policies that benefitted, or even have harmed, our tribal communities and making sure that we understand and have context of our history,” he said.