The Native Youth Leadership Alliance (NYLA) is a multi-year fellowship program that provides culturally based training, resources, and a community of support; to help young Native leaders create positive change in their communities.
NYLA was founded in July 2009 by a core group of Tribal College students and Elders to create a Native-led organization rooted in indigenous approaches to leadership and community building.
NYLA by its very creation embodies the values of self-determination for indigenous communities. Founding members chose to create their own space where the needs of their communities could be addressed through culturally-relevant, grassroots-driven organizing strategies.
The Foundational 24 month NYLA fellowship begins with a 4-day National Visioning Retreat followed by individual support by Co-Directors and Elders, peer coaching and collaboration and mentorship. Regional Skill-building Retreats in the Northwest, South Dakota and Southwest focus on network building, more in-depth skill building, and the development of NYLA Leadership and Community Development Plans to chart fellows’ community actions and desired leadership development opportunities. After NYLA Leadership and Community Development Plans are completed, fellows have access to seed funding: 1) invest a community-building initiative, 2) utilize towards skill-building trainings, and 3) engage in partnering and network building opportunities.
NYLA is the only nationally based fellowship program for young (early 20’s to early 30’s) Native leaders that holistically focuses on both individual leadership skills, and community development, to make long-term investments for the health and sustainability of NYLA communities.
NYLA integrates a holistic approach to our community change work. Community change is created by communities of leaders. In order for community change to be positive, collaborative and sustainable, the leaders must embody the same qualities. What nourishes us is as healthy as the soil it grows within. Leadership development is the soil in which community change grows.
NYLA connects education to action, and plays a complementary role in the educational process of students. Most Native students attend Tribal Colleges and Universities out of motivation to earn a degree or credential that allows them to “give back” to families and communities. NYLA engages young leaders in an experiential, community-focused program of learning and action that fully integrates Native communities’ cultural contexts. NYLA seeks to complete a circle for young Native leaders—connecting education to action.
NYLA partners with Tribal Colleges as natural venues of collaboration, specifically by supporting fellows who are current Tribal College students or graduates. These Tribal Colleges include Northwest Indian College, Salish Kootenai College, Oglala Lakota College, the Institute for American Indian Arts and Dine College. NYLA members also contribute to the consortium of Tribal Colleges, the American Indian Higher Education Consortium (AIHEC) at the annual conference and as alumni of the AIHEC Student Congress.
We as NYLA fellows, along with other Native American youth, are committed to uphold the traditions of our Tribal communities for our own, and future, generations. This commitment consists of strengthening traditional cultures, restoring fluency in Native languages, and protecting our lands. The unique situation of Native young people creates a sense of immediacy in the need for resources, mentorship, and opportunity.
By empowering NYLA fellows to be young change makers in Native communities, we are able to build upon cultural strengths to spark and sustain creativity and collaborative leadership for community development. Through economic and educational partnership, NYLA fellows serve as models for our generation of Native youth: Preserving tradition, while also becoming leaders and innovators in our own communities and broader society.
NYLA’s young leaders are committed to reversing the dire statistics Native communities struggle with on a daily basis. While Native communities do face many severe poverty indicators, NYLA focuses on the assets and strengths of Native communities: Cultural values, sacred traditions, and strong intergenerational relationships.
The new reality that Native communities are drastically trending younger is exemplified on the Oglala Lakota Nation where it is estimated that by 2020 over half the population will be under the age of 18. Despite these inevitable shifts, many Tribal Nations do not have the resources or capacity to engage the full potential of their youth population. As such, many Native youth lack the necessary skills to advance their education and employment opportunities in a long-term way.
This dramatic increase in Native communities youth population is made even more urgent by the low life expectancy in Native communities. Elders are dying before their time and are not reaching the full span of their lives, leaving a gap in their critical roles for cultural knowledge, education and community balance.
Within this difficult context and lack of resources for Native young people, NYLA uses a dynamic culturally based curriculum developed directly from fellows’ experiences. NYLA’s leadership model is strengths-based and focuses on the resiliency of each person and culture, and their ability to create positive social change in their communities.
Mainstream leadership programs typically use an individualist approach that defines leaders as sole actors who use authority or force to create change. Native communities generally prefer a collectivist approach, where leadership is a dynamic process of managing interrelationships among multiple players and community members. Expanding beyond the limitations of existing approaches, NYLA’s dynamic approach supports young adults who are closely woven into the fabric of their communities, with a greater potential for long-term impact.