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Learning How to Lead

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Native American Youth Build Confidence at Camp

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Group of students from one of the 2012 Minnesota Indigenous Youth Freedom Project summer sessions at UMD.  

UMD strives to support programs that promote inclusiveness, diversity, and community outreach. One example is the Minnesota Indigenous Youth Freedom Project (MIYFP). MIYFP creates and administers leadership initiatives for at-risk American Indian youth (aged 13-17) living on and near Minnesota Reservation communities.

This youth-based program is made possible through sponsors, including UMD’s Eni-Gikendaasoyang the Center for Indigenous Knowledge and Language Revitalization through UMD's College of Education and Human Service Professions. Sponsors are a crucial element to the program’s success that creates a free-of-charge camp where the only cost incurred by families is the transportation to and from the UMD campus.

The MIYFP program offers four weeklong camps on campus throughout the summer; a fall weekend retreat; and, a yearlong community-based project with a community mentor. The camp has about 25 students at each summer session while bringing students from all four summer sessions back together for the fall retreat. The sessions alternate between a boy’s camp one week and a girl’s camp the next week for four weeks.

Jamie Walt, MIYFP’s program director, is grateful for all that UMD has to offer. “UMD has gladly opened its doors to participants of the camp. Welcoming students to stay in the dorms, eat in the dining center, and use the Sports and Health Center. This is a great way to introduce college life to students who otherwise may not have thought about going to college.”

MIYFP’s weeklong sessions are based around the principle of Brokenleg’s Circle of learning, which is a model of youth empowerment supported by contemporary research. The model encompasses four core values: belonging, master, independence, and generosity. The central theme of this model is that a set of shared values must exist in any community to create environments that ultimately benefit everyone.

The model’s theme is carried through trainings, lessons, workshops, and projects that the students participate in during their stay. Students also enjoy a variety of activities at UMD and the surrounding Duluth area, including rock climbing, swimming, and the Twister Alpine coaster. By the end of each camp session, youth should leave with a greater sense of demonstratable leadership skills, built up confidence, and belonging within a community.

MIYFP is in its third year of operation and has touched the lives of over 120 at-risk Native American youth. The sense of fulfillment is gratifying for Walt. “At the end of the camp, the students have friends from all over the state of Minnesota and a support system within their own community. We build these kids up and help them realize their potential, and that’s priceless.”

For more information, visit the Minnesota Indigenous Youth Freedom Project website.

Written by Kelly Kemper, August 2012

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