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Tribal Leaders Use Service as Tool for Change

by Ron Lessard

Earlier this month an important meeting was held in Washington. It wasn't a meeting you would have heard about on the nightly news, but it was a meeting that addressed critical issues facing a core constituency of this nation – American Indians.

As the Strategic Advisor for Native American Affairs for the Corporation for National and Community Service, and a Native American, I am proud of the contributions Native Americans have made to this nation. Our culture can be seen in every corner of the country, but too frequently it is overlooked. To continue a dialogue that began last year, CNCS convened the second annual Urban American Indian Summit and the Education in Native American Communities Summit.

Both of these meetings served to deepen and extend the reach of our programs and to discuss how we can best assist in solving critical education issues in Native American communities through national and community service. A critical component of these meetings was the presence of Native American leaders who shared their insights on the challenges and opportunities facing their communities.

We know that more than half of the Native population lives in urban areas. We know that American Indians and Alaska Natives are facing some tough challenges in cities across this country. What we don't know – at least not fully – is how well the social safety net is meeting their needs. We convened the summits to begin to answer these questions.

Every day, these leaders are on the frontlines working to address those unmet needs. They are getting important help from the programs of the Corporation for National and Community Service.

Our programs engage people – from all walks of life – in important work to educate Native American youth; assist our elders; help people climb out of poverty, lead healthier lives, and more. Service solves community challenges. And it can play a vital role in the distinct work that you do.

For more than 45 years, Indian Tribes and other organizations that support Native Americans have tapped national service resources to improve their communities. This year, Foster Grandparents in Navajo Nation are tutoring and mentoring children. The Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma is using service-learning to increase student engagement. And programs, like the Hoopa Tribal Civilian Community Corps, are bringing together youth from across the country to respond to floods, tornadoes and other natural disasters.

There's a proud tradition of national service in Indian Country, and we want it to continue. But in order to do that, we'll have to adapt and respond to the needs of today's Native community – including the millions of people that don't live on tribal lands.

We recognize that there are barriers to certain funding opportunities, but that is why these open dialogues are so critical. The Obama Administration is committed to expanding the role of service in solving community problems, including meeting challenges facing Native Americans.

Ensuring that this core constituency has access to the funding, effective program models, and best practices to improve the lives of Native Americans is a key goal, and we look forward to continuing this conversation as we move forward together.

Ron Lessard is the Strategic Advisor for Native American Affairs at the Corporation for National and Community Service.      

 

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