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Department of the Interior launches new program for Indigenous youth

By: - June 13, 2022 12:36 pm

Hikers descend the Grand Canyon’s South Kaibab Trail in this 2013 file photo. Uranium mining backers agree that the Grand Canyon is an “irreplaceable jewel,” but insist it would not be threatened by modern mining. Photo by Michael Quinn | National Park Service.

Indigenous Youth will get the opportunity to work on conservation projects on public and Tribal lands through the new Indigenous Youth Service Corps program.

The IYSC program is a way to help Indigenous youth get set on a path to good-paying jobs while working to tackle the climate crisis, according to the Department of the Interior. The program will provide Indigenous youth with education, employment, and training opportunities through conservation projects on public land, tribal lands, and Hawaiian homelands.

“Indigenous people have a strong and abiding connection to the Earth — increasing their access to nature early and often will help lift up the next generation of stewards for this Earth,” Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland said in a press release announcing the new program.

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“The IYSC Program is a statutory program that authorizes Tribes to enter into agreements with qualified youth or conservation corps to carry out appropriate conservation projects on eligible service land,” the program guidelines state.

The Department of the Interior stated that the model for IYSC builds off the success of the Ancestral Lands Conservation Corps, a program that is working to cultivate a new generation of local land stewards by partnering with tribal communities and land managers on conservation projects

The IYSC will provide opportunities for Indigenous youth to support the conservation and protection of natural and cultural resources through construction, restoration, or rehabilitation of natural, cultural, historic, archaeological, recreational or scenic resources. Participants will receive a mix of work experience, basic and life skills, education, training and mentoring.

“In addition to completing much-need conservation projects that will enhance landscapes and ecosystems on Tribal and public lands, the Indian Youth Service Corps will have considerable focus on vocational skills training, economic empowerment, and career development for Indigenous youth,” Haaland said.

In support of the new program, the National Park Foundation committed to fund $1 million in IYSC projects, in addition to its ongoing support of Tribal youth service corps projects, according to the department of the interior. 

“The imprint of Tribal history and culture is visible across our national park landscapes,” National Park Foundation President and CEO Will Shafroth said in a press release. 

There are more than 10 projects currently being funded by the National Park Foundation, and the projects engage Indigenous youth in various conservation and preservation activities.

Through the NPF’s projects, Indigenous youth are gaining valuable skill development, personal and professional mentoring and career preparation, the press release stated. The projects are also working to protect Indigenous cultural practices, languages and traditional ecological knowledge used for land management practices.

“Supporting the Indian Youth Service Corps engages and connects Tribal youth to the care and preservation of sacred places across the nation’s public lands,” Shafroth said.

The goals of the IYSC program include creating awareness of Indigenous culture and history, and conserving and protecting their landscapes, stories, and shared experiences for current and future generations, according to the department of the interior. 

Activities that come from the IYSC can include research projects, oral histories, habitat surveys, climate mitigation, trail restoration, invasive species removal, fire fuels reduction, watershed restoration, recreational expansion, and the development of educational, informational, or communication materials for the public.

Projects projected by IYSC will promote self-determination and economic development within Indigenous communities, according to the Department of Interior, and the projects can take place on Tribal lands, or on federal lands where Tribes have ancestral connections.

All projects that do take place on tribal lands will be designed and managed collaboratively, including consultation with the tribal government before the start of any project.

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Shondiin Silversmith
Shondiin Silversmith

Shondiin Silversmith is an award-winning Native journalist based on the Navajo Nation. Silversmith has covered Indigenous communities for more than 10 years, and covers Arizona's 22 federally recognized sovereign tribal nations, as well as national and international Indigenous issues. Her digital, print and audio stories have been published by USA TODAY, The Arizona Republic, Navajo Times, The GroundTruth Project and PRX's "The World." Silversmith earned her master's degree in journalism and mass communication in Boston before moving back to Arizona to continue reporting stories on Indigenous communities. She is a member of the Native American Journalist Association and has made it a priority in her career to advocate, pitch and develop stories surrounding Indigenous communities in the newsrooms she works in.

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