As the world becomes more culturally-connected, how can Native youth and communities reclaim their stories? Carla Knapp, National Vice President of Native Services, shares her thoughts.
We are living in an exciting time – our nation is embracing diversity, equity and inclusion while also looking at the systems and inequities that have created major problems when it comes to opportunity, access and hope.
For Native people like me, and the over 120,000 Native youth who Boys & Girls Clubs serve, it feels like there’s an opportunity in this more culturally-connected world to reclaim our stories and our history – and for other people to recognize and respect them.
My name is Carla Knapp. I am a proud member of the Penobscot Indian Nation and child of the Bear Clan. It is my honor and privilege to lead Native Services at Boys & Girls Clubs of America. Together with my team of seven passionate, purpose-driven colleagues (all hailing from different tribal nations ourselves), we partner with tribes across the nation to bring Clubs to American Indian, Alaska Native, American Samoan and Hawaiian communities.
Currently, more than 200 Clubs serve Native communities, supporting youth academic success, providing positive adult role models, offering meal programs and keeping traditions alive by embedding Indigenous cultural components throughout the Club day. After all, culture is a way of life, and our culture as Native people shows up in our values and beliefs, how we gather, how we eat, how we learn, and so much more. These traditions are so important to pass on to our young people, who will carry our culture forward.
In Indian Country, Native Clubs both meet the needs of the community and are a direct reflection of the people they serve.
There are 574-federally recognized tribal nations, and we partner with nearly 150 of them. Since every tribal community is unique, there is no “one size fits all” Native Boys & Girls Club. We adapt our national programming so that it speaks to all Native communities, recognizing the diversity within our tribal nations. From there, tribes can customize youth programming and projects even further – weaving in their traditions and culture.
But the most critical role Clubs on Native lands provide is consistency. They are open year-round, five days a week, and staffed by caring mentors who understand what it means to be a Native young person. Family is deeply important in the life of any child, and it’s especially important for Native youth to know that their Club is their extended family.
Offering mentorship, academic support, meals, culture and fun, the Club is always there for our Native young people. Clubs nurture resiliency so that Native youth can thrive.
Native young people and their communities face inequities and hardships that started from the first day European ships arrived on this continent in 1492. Poverty has been built into our history as a people, from stolen lands and new diseases, to policies that would go on to devastate our Native economies and deny our rights. Culturally, our historical trauma stays with us and is very real in present-day.
It is important that our nation understands this history, and recent headlines have shown how deep this trauma runs, from unmarked mass graves at residential schools to thousands of missing Native people.
But it is also important that we, and especially our Native youth, understand that our story has always been one of incredible strength. Native people have battled the odds to overcome centuries of oppression, and to find ways to thrive and prosper.
Yes, we know and believe that our communities deserve so much better. However, although there are economic and systemic challenges, our communities are rich – rich in culture, rich in family and rich in our love for this great nation we call Indian Country.
That richness is demonstrated within tribal nation building, as tribes address these inequities and dismantle inherited systems that were not developed for Native people by Native people.
And our Boys & Girls Clubs on Native lands play a critical role as supporters and partners to tribes, to reclaiming our story and proudly owning our heritage, and to offering hope and access to great futures for thousands of Native youth.
In my culture, we believe in the “seven generations.”
We understand the many generations who came before us – what they endured for us, as well as the strengths they’ve passed on to us – and we must in turn do our part to ensure the next generation is set up to thrive.
At Boys & Girls Clubs of America we respect and honor the right of Native people to control their own futures, and we are excited to continue to partner with them to support young people with safe places, caring mentors and culturally-relevant, life-enhancing programs.
Learn more about how Boys & Girls Clubs of America supports Native youth and communities.