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Report Highlights State of Native Youth

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TaNeel Filesteel is an Indigenous Generation ambassador who helped with the State of Native Youth Report and deputy prosecutor at the Fort Belknap reservation. (Jason Packineau/Harvard University Native American Program)
TaNeel Filesteel is an Indigenous Generation ambassador who helped with the State of Native Youth Report and deputy prosecutor at the Fort Belknap reservation. (Jason Packineau/Harvard University Native American Program)
 By Eric Tegethoff - Producer, Contact
November 28, 2017

HELENA, Mont. – A new report assesses the state of native youth in Montana and across the country. The second annual report from the Aspen Institute's Center for Native American Youth, this year titled "Our Identities as Civic Power" combines surveys and research to identify pressing issues for young people in native communities. At the top of the list is mental health.

Erik Stegman, executive director of the Center for Native American Youth, says the rate of suicide and suicide attempts for native youth is about two-and-a-half times that of the national rate for youth. The report highlights the importance of culture in prevention.

"No matter whether you're in Montana or anywhere else, the key to any of these interventions has to be culture and language," he explains. "Native youth know that culture and language is a protective factor and they do as many different things as they can to figure out how to really strengthen culture and language to help to do things like preventing suicide."

The report also looks at systems involving youth - such as foster care and criminal justice - education and jobs, and the environment and protecting indigenous lands.

Closely involved with the report were young people known as Generation Indigenous ambassadors who live and work in native communities.

One of those ambassadors is TaNeel Filesteel, the 22-year-old deputy prosecutor for the Fort Belknap reservation in north-central Montana. She focuses on the relationship between bullying and the criminal justice system and says some of the kids who bullied her in school are now being prosecuted by her office.

Filesteel says it's part of a behavioral pattern her office is addressing through its Recidivism Reduction Initiative, which also is providing culturally relevant programming to help both the youths in court and their families.

"It's really, I feel like, a healing process, if we're going to label it anything because the objective is to really heal and to interrupt the pattern so that they don't commit other offenses later on," she says.

Civic engagement is the major theme of the report. Stegman says the protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline last year have empowered native youth movements. He highlights a quote from a young person in the report on those protests.

"'This is really a renaissance for native youth,'" Stegman quotes. "You know, one of the things that we definitely saw - and we detail in the report this year - is a lot of momentum happening at Standing Rock. It has certainly continued on, and it's gotten stronger now."

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