(Summer ’11) Farzana Serang G
Urban Studies and Planning graduate student Farzana Serang was awarded the first Commitee on Race and Diversity (CRD)-Public Service Center (PSC) grant to travel to Washington, D.C, as well as Minnesota and Montana, to work with the National Congress of American Indians and the Rural Assembly. Farzana is working with these two diverse groups to help create a plan for transportation innovation to address the needs of these individuals (Indian and rural) who face similar challenges.
Re-learning what it means to be Indian
The common question, “What reservation are you from?” asked at the National Intertribal Youth Summit was the cue for my awkward response of, well…my family is from India, but I grew up in California. It wasn’t enough. Why was I there? What’s my connection to all of this? What am I trying to do?
Approaching my second year of grad school and after five years in the nonprofit policy arena, the word “tribal regions” was rarely mentioned. I’ve been working to elevate opportunities for low income communities and communities of color, but I couldn’t speak to a deep expertise in what urban planning or policy looks like in tribal regions. At the same time, I knew an accurate landscape of policy should be: federal, tribal, state, and local regions. Read, repeat, and reuse in every correspondence you can.
Beyond knowing that inclusive urban planning and policy must include tribal regions, I still had much to learn. Even now I cannot even begin to scratch the surface of the complexities of the American Indian and Alaskan Native experience in the United States: thousand year-old histories, hundreds of year old stories of persecution, 565 federally recognized and deeply diverse tribes – sovereign nations that coexist as part of the American family of governments. Where to begin?
Having worked briefly with the National Congress of American Indians, I was lucky enough to be able to work with them this summer on a Rural Policy Innovation Roundtable. Even luckier, given my interest in inter-generational leadership and wanting to better integrate youth in Rural Policy Roundtable, I was able to attend the 2011 National Intertribal Youth Summit (NIYS) in Santa Fe, New Mexico. NIYS was a week-long leadership conference for 200 youth representing over 52 tribes. It was not just an eye-opener, but an ear-opener: I was there to listen and hear what the youth wanted and envisioned for their communities.
The words are still bumbling in my mind and images from the World Café cover my cubicle because in these coming weeks, I’ll have to translate what transpired that week into a report expressing the youth’s voice and the role of the NIYS. But one thing is clear: Youth are to be heard, not just seen. During the World Café session, Youth expressed solutions to problems in their community and envisioned a healthier place to live. As one 13 year-old shared, “we need grants, but we need the kind that don’t go away in a few years. No more broken promises.” The youth have a unique wisdom and their perspective is invaluable. Future solutions must be sustainable not only in practice, but throughout generations.
I’m looking forward to translating the NIYS aspirations into a more cohesive expression of the national intertribal youth voice. I can’t wait to share what they have to say. Hopefully, this will also give me some insights into how to better link rural policy creation to youth leadership development.
Until then, I have one last thing to share: Leadership within American Indians and Alaskan Natives communities is growing, and with that comes increased possibilities. Many speakers from these communities shared their powerful stories and proved what it possible. If you don’t already know the people below, you should.
o Notah Begay, Pro Golfer & founder of the Notah Begay Foundation
o Morgan Fawcett, Tlingit Musician and FASD Speaker
o Charlie Galbraith, White House Office of Public Engagement Associate Director
o Joe Garcia, Ohkay Owingeh Head Councilman
o Chaske Spencer,Twilight Actor and “Be the Shift” Activist
o Hilary Tompkins, U.S. Department of the Interior Solicitor
o Gene Tagaban, Tlinglit Storyteller and Actor