|Youth take part in a drum cerempony at the Ain Dah Yung Center.|
The Ain Dah Yung Center—a FYSB grantee that operates a basic center, a transitional living program, and a street outreach program in St. Paul, Minnesota—creates cultural connections for youth by introducing them to Tribal traditions that, in turn, help anchor them to their communities.
"We wanted to be a part of the process of keeping kids in their placement by providing cultural activities for them in groups. We thought hopefully we could retain contact with kids and their families and minimize their risk of coming back to shelter because we are keeping them busy and supporting their families," says Yvonne Barrett, executive director of Ain Dah Yung.
"Our Home" in the Ojibwe language, created a locally funded aftercare program to support their basic center in the early 1990s. Called Ninijanisag ("our children") because many youth returned to the shelter after they had graduated, the program was created to bridge the connection to the community, and to culture and identity, so youth would want to stay where they were placed. Now the program, which features traditional ceremonies and cultural activities, is available to youth who have left the shelter and also to the broader community.
Barrett says that having youth participate in cultural activities like tanning deer hides, making drums, and learning indigenous languages helps to build their self-esteem.
In the spring, Shawnee Hunt, Ninijanisag director, took the youth ice fishing one weekend on a traditional Indian campsite where ice fishing has been protected for hundreds of years by Tribes in northern Minnesota.
"Time slowed down and they had time to reflect and talk," Hunt says. "By Sunday they started to open up, and they felt they could trust the people they were with. One of the kids said this was something that he would have never been able to do, and he would remember it for the rest of his life."
"It helps them build their identity to see and be around those kinds of things," Hunt adds. "It helps them feel unique, knowing that there are people out there that care about them, that they have an extended family."
Having the youth participate in these cultural traditions also helps the staff in tangible ways. Youth come back for annual cultural events like the powwow or Elders Lodge—where they participate in a talking circle at a senior living facility. This provides a good time for staff to check in with the youth and see how they are faring in their placements.
Some youth have received Indian names from elders in the program—a tradition that means the adult has dedicated his or her life to being the youth's teacher.
"It's different from the mainstream where you work with a therapist, you see the family for eight sessions, and they are cured," says Richard Garland, associate director. "The relationships are much more long lasting. We are community based people; we are going to see each other down the line at some kind of ceremony or event."
Though the program doesn't have hard data on how a cultural approach helps them to stay in contact with youth, they can personally attest to its success.
"I can say with confidence that we are helping kids to stay in their long-term placements," says Barrett. "We are helping the parent to almost coparent in a way. For kids, it gives them something to look forward to. They have come to rely on these positive activities."