For 70 years, the Division of Indian Work (DIW) in Minneapolis, Minnesota, has been furthering its mission of “Empowering Urban American Indians” and for the past decade with help from Running Strong for American Indian Youth®.
Specifically, thanks to the supporters of Running Strong, we provide grant funding to support its Youth Leadership Development Program (YLDP) which encourages well-rounded success by providing American Indian youth with a wide variety of learning opportunities and academic support which includes cultural enrichment, after-school tutoring and educational, recreational, environmental and artistic activities.
DIW’s YLPD also features its Indigenous Scholars Summer Program described as a literacy program for Indigenous children and youth in grades kindergarten through 8th “with a focus on cultural teachings and culturally relevant literacy to ensure our scholars excel and believe in their ability to make a difference in themselves and their communities while also discovering a love of reading.”
During 2022, DIW used its $25,000 grand from Running Strong to serve 50 urban American Indian children and youth, ages 5-17, from about two dozen various Indian nations, with majority being Dakota, Anishinaabe and Lakota, reported development officer Ardie Medina this month.
“The funds from Running Strong were spent on general support of YLDP activities, including bringing elders and other community experts in to do traditional teachings, arts and crafts and presentations on various subjects (e.g., demonstration on static electricity from a Bakken Museum staff member),” said Ardie.
For a “Natives in Excellence” lesson, staff and youth got to Zoom with voice actor Wacinyeya Yracheta, a 12-year-old from the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe who voices Kodi Skycedar from the Netflix cartoon series Spirit Rangers, she told us.
“The kids were thrilled with being able to talk to him about his voice-acting work and what it’s like to be a part of a cartoon,” she said.
Teens and staff also created “a large metal sculpture” for the DIW building under the guidance of artists and staff at the Chicago Avenue Fine Arts Center which is to be installed in the DIW backyard this spring.
“Using plasma torches, sandblasters, grinding tools and paint, they created a nearly 10-foot-tall Medicine Wheel in the style of a Dreamcatcher,” she reported. “There are feathers hanging down to represent the Seven Grandfather Teachings.”
Many of the youth in the YLDP have been participating for years, said Ardie, who added, “We consider this a strength as it allows us to develop deep and long-term relationships with youth and their families.
“Our young people are often in spaces where they do not see themselves represented, let alone represented in a positive way.
“It is important for us that when they come to DIW they see themselves in their surroundings, in their teachers and youth workers, in the curriculum we use, in the books that are read, in the art they are taught, and the languages they learn.
“Our youth have inherited a legacy of historical trauma, grief, and loss.
“We have found that helping them connect or deepen their connection to their culture and heritage in a positive way gives them a sense of belonging and a strong foundation to work toward being their best selves.”
The DIW YLDP also provides opportunities for our youth to experience new things such as learning a new art skill or travel to another state for a conference.
“Our goal is for them to see opportunity beyond what they experience as an urban American Indian,” says Ardie.
“We also encourage leadership, particularly with our young women. Our Young Women’s Society (Wikoškalaka Omničiye) has chosen to focus on the crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women, presenting at conferences and other gatherings, and educating and advocating for their sisters.
Because of the grant funding provided by Running Strong, “It has been amazing to see them develop speaking skills and confidence as they lead in this work.”