Tribal Youth Ambassadors
At the California Indian Museum and Cultural Center (CIMCC) in Santa Rosa, California, students are making history—literally—as Tribal Youth Ambassadors. Native youth, ages 9 to 24, develop educational programs and interactive exhibits that relate the rich history, culture, and contributions of California Indians. Through this experience, participants gain a greater awareness and appreciation of their heritage, while promoting intercultural understanding among Native and non-Native communities.
Multigenerational instructors—museum staff, Native adults, tribal elders, and other professionals—also serve as mentors. Youth receive humanities lessons, plus Native language, cultural, and multimedia arts training after school, two days a week, for two to four hours. Structured assignments are project-specific, and when students need extensive technical instruction, they attend supplementary weekend workshops and summer camps. Students also learn leadership, public speaking, and presentation skills and how to serve as docents.
Tribal Youth Ambassadors have developed GIS mapping, theater, and micro-enterprise projects that create a living testament to Native people and their traditions. And, while participating in such elder-led activities as storytelling, the youth gain valuable insights, filling the gaps in their own cultural knowledge with the elders’ experiences.
The Tribal Youth Ambassadors program began in 2010, to document Native languages. Native youth conducted and recorded interviews with elders, not only to learn the languages, but also the values and knowledge they embodied. Youth also worked with Native artists, including videography and animation professionals, to craft digitally animated stories.
Over the years, the program has expanded to include projects relating to folk and traditional arts and CIMCC exhibits, among other areas. Meanwhile, the initial language documentation project has also evolved. Its multimedia archives helped to create the digital files for apps that enable users to learn Native languages on various electronic devices, such as tablets and phones. In fact, the museum recently released these language apps: Eastern Pomo (Bahtssal), Central Pomo, Northern Pomo, Southern Pomo, Kanwin Tamal words, and Kanwin Tamal phrases.
Native youth often return for multiple sessions, and program facilitators see measured growth in leadership, self-confidence, peer-to-peer relationships, and, most of all, cultural and community pride. As a testament to their success, the Tribal Youth Ambassadors receive annual invitations to present their educational programming in museums and classrooms, and local museums feature their video We Are Indian. We Are Proud.
The CIMCC program serves Native youth who are at high risk for low achievement in school. And, remarkably, 100 percent graduate—sometimes, with honors. Students’ new skills improve their educational and employment opportunities beyond the program.
Students may come in with a little bit of uncertainty. However, as they learn more about their heritage and their community and have the opportunity to vocalize it, they gain confidence in expressing themselves and who they are.Nicole Lim Executive Director, California Indian Museum and Cultural Center