American Indian/Alaskan Native Youth

Native Americans/ American Indians/ Indigenous Americans/ Native Alaskans are the indigenous peoples of the United States, except for its territories. The ancestors of living Native Americans arrived in what is now the United States at least 15,000 years ago. Native Americans were greatly affected by the European colonization of the Americas. Settler colonialism waged war and perpetrated massacres against many Native American peoples and removed them from their ancestral lands, from broken treaties. 

We stand in solidarity with indigenous peoples and wish to acknowledge that we now gather on the ancestral lands and former homelands of the First Nations Peoples. In a long history of interaction with European nations, the French, Spanish, British, and American governments claimed these lands and attempted to establish control over the Native nations. 

Truth and acknowledgement are critical to building mutual respect and connection across all barriers of heritage and difference.

We begin this effort to acknowledge what has been buried by honoring the truth.

We pay respects to their elders past and present.

Please take a moment to recognize the many legacies of violence, displacement, migration, and settlement that continue to be relevant today.

We honor the past. We live in the present. And we look forward to the future. We need to understand all components to move forward.

-Norma Dorado-Robles & Sue Isbell , champion group members


  • About 2.9 million or 0.9 percent of the US population identifies as American Indian/Alaska Native (AI/AN)
  • About 5.2 million or 1.7 percent of the US population identifies as AI/AN in combination with other races
  • About 32 percent of AI/AN population is under the age of 18. The median age of this group is 29.7 years
  • The median age for AI/AN living on reservations is 26
  • AI/AN population from birth through age 24 makes up 42 percent of the total AI/AN population.
  • The states with the highest proportion of people identifying as AI/AN are: Alaska (19.5%), Oklahoma (12.9%), New Mexico (10.7%).
  • There are 565 federally recognized tribes in 35 states in the US.
  • About 47 percent of AI/ANs live on reservations or other US Census-defined tribal areas.

National Trends:

4-H programs and projects that originate in Indian Country (IC) and support AI/AN sovereignty:

  • The Charging Home Stampede 4-H Fair, the first reservation-based 4-H fair, is held every July during the North American Indian Days Celebration on the Blackfeet Reservation in Montana. Almost 80 youth participate annually, spending three days competing in areas ranging from traditional livestock shows to cat and dog demonstrations. Youth can sit with an interviewer to describe their project and they sell their products at a community auction.
  • Sioux Image is a youth entrepreneur and mentoring project on the Standing Rock Reservation. Over 300 youth have been involved in the project’s embroidery, printing, and silkscreen business. Students learn basic business skills and hands-on screen printing and manage all aspects of the business. All profits are reinvested back into the business or used by the mentoring program.

Population Trends:

  • Child Abuse and Neglect is experienced by AI/AN children more frequently than non-AI/AN children (for every single substantiated case of abuse for non-AI/AN children, there are 30 AI/AN children). Some causes for child abuse and neglect in Indian Country (IC) are substance abuse or family violence. AI/AN children appear to be more likely than Caucasian children to be placed in foster care and to have longer stays in substitute care.

Education :

  • Compared with 76% of white students, the national graduation rate for AI high school students is 49% (2003-2004 school year). High school dropout rates for AI/AN youth are double the national average and over 50 percent in states with the highest AI/AN populations. About 13 %of AI/AN have undergraduate degrees, versus 24% of the general population; however, the number of AI/AN students enrolled in colleges and universities and the number of postsecondary degrees awarded has more than doubled in the past 30 years. In addition, AI/ANS are overrepresented in special education with significant variations among states; for example, 39 %of AI/AN students in Florida have some type of disability whereas no AI/ANs in the District of Columbia were identified as having disabilities.

Health Disparities:

  • Approximately, 24 %of AI/ANs lack health insurance and rely solely on the Indian health system which is one factor leading to major health disparities among the AI/AN population.
  • Alcoholism mortality rates are 514 %higher than the general population; The reported rate of binge alcohol use over a month period was higher among AI/AN adults than the national average (31 versus 25%)
  • Diabetes incidence is 177 % higher, with the highest rate of type 2 diabetes of any specific population in the US; AI/AN children are 2.2 times more likely to have diagnosed diabetes than white children.
  • Tuberculosis incidence is 500% higher
  • AI/AN adolescents have two to four times the rate of sexually transmitted diseases. compared to whites nationally and twice the proportion of AIDS compared to their national counterparts.
  • Tobacco use is considerably higher among AI/AN than white youth.


  • AI/AN people represent 8% of the U.S. population. Homelessness among AI/AN is often highest for “urban” Indians who are not connected to their tribe. Lack of adequate housing or “doubling up” is also considered homelessness and is significant in IC. In 2019, approximately 17 % of AI/AN living on tribal lands were considered homeless.

Language and culture

  • There are 192 languages in the United States. Fifty-four languages are extinct; 146 languages range from “critically endangered” to “vulnerable” in terms of their vulnerability to extinction. Numbers of speakers range from 10 (critically endangered) to over 3000 (vulnerable).
  • In 2016, the National Congress of American Indians passed Resolution #PHX-16-013, titled “Executive Order on Native Language Revitalization.”
  • In 2005, 39 states had laws related to Indian Education.
  • The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services funds projects to ensure the survival and continuing vitality of Native languages. The 2016 projects occurred across 11 states and Guam. These projects resulted in training for 83 Native language instructors, the development of six Native language surveys; and 93 youth achieving fluency in a Native language.

The Native American medicine wheel is a symbol of life and is important to many indigenous cultures. The meanings and colors of the medicine wheel may differ across tribes.

The Circle of Courage represents Attachment (supportive relationships), Achievement (desire to learn), Autonomy (empowerment), and Altruism (helping others) and is a model for working with Native youth.

The 4-H Essential Elements in terms of working with Native Youth: Generosity (listen with your heart); Independence (solitary time to connect with ancestors and vision quests); Belonging (identity); Mastery (wisdom, mastery is thought of as one’s gift).

Poverty rates for AI/Ans are high. In 2009 the rate was 24% with 32% under the age of 18 living in poverty. The average household income for the AI/AN population is $33,300, while the national average is $46,200. AI/AN living in Indian Country have incomes less than half the national average. In addition, AI/AN children live in single parent families at the highest rates in the U.S.

Resilience in Indian Country occurs when there is:

  • a strong sense of AI/AN identity
  • a legacy of survival passed down from tribal ancestors
  • cultural pride
  • accountability and responsibility

Suicide “disproportionately affects AI/AN. The suicide rate among AI/AN has been increasing since 2003, and in 2015, AI/AN suicide rates in the 18 states participating in the National Violent Death Reporting System (NVDRS) were 21.5 per 100,000, more than 3.5 times higher than those among racial/ethnic groups with the lowest rates” (Leavitt et al., 2018). In addition:

  • Suicide is the second leading cause of death (2.5 times the national rate) for AI/AN youth ages 15-24.
  • AI/AN people ages 15 to 24 have the highest rate of suicide, approximately 31% males and 11 percent females
  • In 2001, the suicide rates for AI/AN youth were three times greater than for Caucasians of similar age.

Trauma afflicts AI/AN people in many ways:

  • prolonged experience of trauma such as historical events like the removal from homelands;
  • personal events that impact several generations such as boarding schools, massacres, forced relocation, and early losses;
  • the cumulative effects or single episodes of violence such as homicide, suicide, unintentional injuries, domestic and/or community violence.

Violence in IC is twice that of the U.S. national rate. Tribal communities experience high rates of domestic violence, child abuse and neglect, alcohol abuse, gang involvement, and exposure to violence. The rate of violent juvenile crime in tribal communities continues to grow. In addition, AI/AN women are more than 2.5 times more likely to be raped or sexually assaulted than other women in the U.S.; in 2005, 39% of adult AI/AN women were victims of intimate partner violence.

Best Practices for Working with in Indian Country (not a checklist):

  • Elder knowledge is important
  • Trust and respect
  • Collectivist culture
  • People need to know you are there to stay and are going to follow through
  • Respect for the worth of everyone and everything
  • Humility
  • Listen more than talk (listen with your heart)

To learn more about the history of land grant universities in the context of indigenous lands, visit 


Association of American Indian Affairs

Bigfoot, Willmon-Hague, Braden (2008). “Trauma Exposure in American Indian/Alaska Native Children.” Indian Country Child Trauma Center.

BJS Report (2004). American Indians and Crime, A BJS Statistical Profile, 1992-2002.

Braun, S. (2019) Personal Conversation. American Indian Studies Program, Iowa State University

Brendtro, L. (2019). “Generosity: Building Circles of Respect.” Thriving Children Youth Families Growing Edge Training Online Journal, 4, no. 3, March 27, 2019

Center for Native American Youth of the Aspen Institute. “Fast Facts on Native American Youth and Indian Country.” (n.d.).

Crosby, LaFromboise, Manson, and Flynn (2019). “Preventing Suicidal Behavior in American Indian and Alaska Native Communities: A Health Equity Issue.” Facilitated by Isklander, Thorpe, and Laird March 19, 2019. US Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

DeVoe and Darling-Churchill. (2008). “Status and Trends in the Education of American Indians and Alaska Natives.” Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education. National Center for Education Statistics. (NCES 2008-084).

Flatt, B. (2015). “Blackfeet Reservation Supports 4-H Members.” Farm Flavor, March 24, 2015. USDA

Griffith, C. (2019). “Homeless in Their Homeland: A Modern Native American Struggle.” Invisible People blog

Office of Public Instruction, Montana. Indian Education for All

Leavitt RA, Ertl A, Sheats K, Petrosky E, Ivey-Stephenson A, and Fowler KA (2018). “Suicides Among American Indian/Alaska Natives-National Violent Death Reporting System, 18 States, 2003-2014.” MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep2018; 67:237-242

McCoy, M. (2005). “Indian Education Legal Support Project: Tribalizing Indian Education. Compilation of State Indian Education Laws. Updated October 2005.” The Native American Rights Fund.

Oxendine, J. (2014). “Native American Medicine Wheel: Comparison in Life.” Blog post April 8, 2014

Rennison, C. (2001). “Violent Victimization and Race, 1993-98.” U.S. DOJ, Bureau of Justice Statistics, March, (NCJ 176354).

Siers-Poisson, J. (2017). “One School In Wisconsin Brings Together Students, Faculty, From 20 Tribes: The Indian Community School In Milwaukee Teaches Language, Culture And Pride” Wisconsin Public Radio.

Skousen, T. (n.d.) “Native American Resilience.”

Unesco Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger

U.S. Census, 2010 Census Redistricting File

U.S. Department of Education, White House Initiative on American Indian and Alaska Native Education

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Administration for Children and Families. Administration for Native Americans. “FY 2016 Report to Congress on Outcome Evaluations of Administration for Native American Projects.”



“4-H Youth Development Programming in Indigenous Communities” by Joshua Farella, Mike Hauser et al. (

Applying the Peoplehood Model: An Evaluation Tool for Working in Indigenous Communities by Joshua Farella, Joshua Moore, Juan Arias

Framing Indigenous Identity Inclusion in Positive Youth Development: Proclaimed Ignorance, Partial Vacuum, and the Peoplehood Model | Farella | Journal of Youth Development (

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Josh Farella

Shaina Nomee