Contact: Erin Bailey
Center for Native American Youth
The Aspen Institute
Program to combat challenges facing at-risk Native American youth
Washington, DC, February 28, 2010 –– The Center for Native American Youth, a new policy program at the Aspen Institute, will host a pair of launch events today, Monday, February 28. Founded by Byron Dorgan, former US Senator and Chairman of the US Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, the Center is committed to improving the overall health, safety and well-being of Native American Youth, and in particular the prevention of youth suicide.
A roundtable discussion will be held first from 2:30-3:30 pm at the Aspen Institute and will feature Senator Dorgan and Aspen Institute President and CEO Walter Isaacson. Following that will be a reception from 5:00-7:00 pm in the Patrons Lounge at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian. Special guests at the reception include National Congress of American Indians’ President Jefferson Keel, Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Senator Jon Tester (D-MT), Congressman Don Young (R-AK), Congressman Dale Kildee (D-MI), Director of the Indian Health Service Dr. Yvette Roubideaux, and Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Larry EchoHawk.
“I created the Center for Native American Youth because I believe our country has a responsibility to keep the promises we have made to the First Americans,” said Senator Dorgan. “And we must start with the young people, many of whom are struggling to find opportunities to improve their lives.”
While in the Senate, Senator Dorgan worked to bring attention to the disparities existing in Indian Country. He successfully championed the effort to reauthorize the Indian Health Care Improvement Act after it had languished for 18 years; wrote and ushered through the Tribal Law and Order Act; fought for increased funding for Indian Country; and much more.
“With this Center, I am determined to improve the lives of Native American children by focusing on education and health with special emphasis on teen suicide prevention,” Dorgan added. “We’ve made progress on Indian legislation in recent years, and I am proud of those achievements. But much more needs to be done. Our Center will work with tribal leaders and national Indian organizations to make a positive difference in the lives of Native American youth.”
“I am excited that the Aspen Institute will bring attention to the challenges facing Native American youth,” said Walter Isaacson. “Senator Dorgan brings great passion and knowledge to bear on these important issues, and has a long track record of making a difference in peoples’ lives.”
Native American youth suffer the highest rate of suicide of any population in the country. The average suicide rate for Native teens is 3.5 times the national average. In the past decade, numerous suicide clusters have arisen in Indian Country, reaching epidemic levels of up to ten times the national average in far too many tribal communities. During his 40 years in public office, Senator Dorgan was dedicated to efforts to improve the lives of Native American youth, and especially reducing the tragic high rates of youth suicide. He remains deeply passionate about this issue today. Youth suicide prevention will be the early focus of the new Center.
Despite the strong efforts of tribal governments and Indian advocates, difficult conditions persist in many tribal communities. The work of tribal governments and organizations has been, and will continue to be, critical to the advancement of Native youth. The Center aspires to develop meaningful partnerships with tribal governments and organizations.
The Center will hold youth summits and roundtables throughout Indian Country. Events will strive to bring together youth, tribal leaders, key partners, and experts to discuss the challenges these young people face and best practices on how to respond to those challenges. It is because of these goals that Senator Dorgan decided to place the Center for Native American Youth at The Aspen Institute, a world-renowned think tank that has successfully brought national attention to important issues and fostered dialogues between skilled communicators and experts on a wide variety of topics. The Center will be the first program specifically dedicated to Native American issues at the Aspen Institute.
In addition to holding summits, the Center will assist tribes in identifying and applying for sources of funding. The Center will also monitor youth-related activities and suicide prevention efforts, especially in Indian Country, to encourage replication of successful programs. Communities hit the hardest by suicide or other challenges are often the same communities that do not have the resources to compete in the competitive grant process. The Center aims to help the most disadvantaged youth get the help they need in order to succeed.
For more information about the Center for Native American Youth please visit www.aspeninstitute.org/cnay.
The Aspen Institute mission is twofold: to foster values-based leadership, encouraging individuals to reflect on the ideals and ideas that define a good society, and to provide a neutral and balanced venue for discussing and acting on critical issues. The Aspen Institute does this primarily in four ways: seminars, young-leader fellowships around the globe, policy programs, and public conferences and events. The Institute is based in Washington, DC; Aspen, Colorado; and on the Wye River on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. It also has an international network of partners.