During the winter break from school December 28-30, close to 100 youth participated in the Salt River Winter Youth Gathering, hosted by the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community’s Youth Advisory Council. The event was a chance for the youth to learn new things and meet new people. The gathering was divided into two age categories: students ages 8 to 12, and 13 to 17.
The agenda focused on both negative and positive influences on the Community’s youth—gangs, drug and alcohol abuse, education, positive activities, and the importance of families and friends—and how to avoid the negative and embrace the positive.
The event featured a series of workshops dealing with the issues; for example, Salt River Police Department School Resource Officers Rodney F. States and Anslem Flores led a workshop on drug and alcohol abuse prevention. Their presentation consisted of a slide show explaining the types of drugs that the youth may or may not come across, and their physical effects and life consequences. Some of the kids were affected by graphic images of what could happen to people if they use drugs on a long-term basis. One photo showed the teeth of a methamphetamine user, which were eaten away and decayed as a result of ingesting the chemicals in the drug.
Discussion with Tribal Leaders
Another event was a roundtable discussion with members of the SRPMIC Tribal Council and others. Prior to the discussion, the students attended a workshop to prepare questions they wanted to ask about issues facing youth in the Community, such as gangs, drugs, alcohol, teen pregnancy and graffiti.
Members of the roundtable panel were SRPMIC Vice-President Martin Harvier; Council Members Tom Largo, Ricardo Leonard and Claire Miller; and two Strategy Team members, Eric Schurz and Maria Silversmith. They offered answers to the prepared questions, their opinions on the issues, and information about steps that the Community is taking to fight and prevent some of these problems.
Preventing Teen Pregnancy
The first question asked by the youth during the roundtable was what the Community is doing to decrease the number of teen pregnancies in the Community.
The panel members responded by saying that there needs to be more sex education in Community schools. Youth need to be educated about the basics of pregnancy and how to prevent it, the ramifications of teen pregnancy and how it changes your life, and where to get help if they become pregnant.
Council Member Leonard discussed some of the effects of teen pregnancy.
“When young people have children, they try to continue living the way they were before and doing the things teens like to do. That leaves the teens’ parents or grandparents to raise the baby, and it’s hard on them,” said Leonard. “It all goes back to educating ourselves—parents, grandparents and children—on this subject.”
Although education is important, abstinence is more important, said Council Member Tom Largo. “Abstinence” means to simply not have sex, and then there’s no way you can get pregnant. “Further your education, do the things that you want to do, and enjoy the time you have as a young person,” Largo advised the youth.
The problem of teen pregnancy is especially brought into focus during per-capita time, when Council is informed about the new enrollment numbers and sees how many children are born, explained Vice-President Harvier. “I believe we now have more than 9,000 members in Salt River, and we’re getting close to 10,000.
Each quarter, 50 to 60 babies are born and enrolled in the Community. This has an effect on the amount of the per-capita payment, and it also concerns us because many of these children end up in the foster care system.”
The SRPMIC Health & Human Services Department has programs to help Community youth deal with teen pregnancy, as well as health services for teen mothers and their babies at the clinic. Other Community programs help teen parents, such as the free childcare service offered by the Early Childhood Education Center. This service gives young parents the opportunity to finish their education, have a job, or both. And for teen parents who may have had to drop out of school but now wish to go back and finish their education, they can take classes at the Accelerated Learning Academy.
Alcohol Abuse and Illegal Activity
Another question the youth asked the panel was why the Council recently passed the alcohol ordinance, given that there is a major problem with alcohol abuse in the Community. Council members on the roundtable panel explained that the people of the Community passed the ordinance, and that it is a way to generate additional funding that will help provide more services to the Community.
The students also asked the panel about efforts to prevent gang activity and graffiti. The Salt River Police Department has become more vigilant about stopping vehicles in situations where there may be a traffic violation or something illegal may be going on, explained Largo, and the officers have been very successful in finding drugs and weapons.
“We have gang members randomly shooting off guns in the Community without knowing who is on the other side of the wall—it could be an elder, a child or an innocent bystander—and as a result, the police department is cracking down on that,” Largo said. “They are catching some of the people who are doing that.”
The gang color ordinance, which prevents gang members from wearing their colors at Community events or any public place in the Community, also is helping to curb gang activity.
Some panel members agreed that some of the people doing graffiti in the Community are talented artistically, and that they could do a lot better if they would just put their work on canvas and not on Community property or homes.
Other representatives thought the graffiti is downright disrespectful and hideous.
A Helpful Dialogue
After a two-hour discussion, the youth walked away with many answers and some good advice.
Council Member Largo expressed his admiration and excitement about the youth having the courage to bring these issues to the Council. “[This kind of dialogue] helps us take a good look at our programs here in the Community, and it makes us feel that if the Community does not have a program or service that is needed, then let’s get it.”
The Winter Youth Conference concluded with a talent show, which gave the students’ parents a chance to see what their children love to do.