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Native Aspirations Community Meeting Addresses Youth Violence, Bullying, and Suicide

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Apr. 26, 10 -

Elders and youth representing over 50 American Indian tribes and Alaska Native villages convened at the Doubletree Inn-City Center in Spokane, Washington, May 5 - 8 for a Native Aspirations Community Meeting that celebrated achievements in community efforts to overcome youth violence, bullying, and suicide.

"Native Aspirations is a national program providing training and technical assistance for the prevention of youth violence, bullying, and suicide," said Project Director Iris PrettyPaint, PhD, of Kauffman & Associates, Inc., the Spokane-based, Native-owned firm that coordinates the project for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

"Our communities have felt the impact of these interrelated issues," said Dr. PrettyPaint. "Native Aspirations captures the cultural approach that provides a path for communities to discover resilience, strength, and perseverance."

Established by SAMHSA in 2005, Native Aspirations provides a planning framework, training, technical assistance, and small grants for communities at the highest risk for youth violence, bullying, and suicides. The project empowers communities to draw on their own cultural traditions and strengths as they come together to grieve and heal, develop prevention plans, and implement evidence-based interventions against youth violence, bullying and suicide. Thirty-three communities are currently participating and an additional 32 communities will be invited to participate over the next four years.

"Native Aspirations is an approach that instills hope," said PrettyPaint.  "When a community embraces the belief that "We can do it, positive change begins to occur."

Each community is sending a youth representative, an elder, and its Native Aspirations coordinator to the meeting.  Participants will come from Arizona, Minnesota, North Dakota, New Mexico, Nebraska, South Dakota, , Montana, Wisconsin, and Wyoming,. Five Alaska Native Corporations including Bering Straits, Doyon Ltd., Calista, NANA, and Sealaska will also participate.

The community meeting is designed to allow Native Aspirations community representatives to celebrate achievements, share lessons learned, and receive training. There were workshops and meetings for experienced Native Aspiration communities, those just beginning their Native Aspirations work, and for youth participants. A featured event was a welcoming address from Michelle Carnes, PhD, of SAMHSA's Center for Mental Health Services, Division of Prevention, Traumatic Stress, Special Programs, State and Tribal Suicide Prevention Branch.  An additional feature will be the presentation of "According to Coyote," a one-actor play written by the late John Kauffman (Nez Perce) and performed by Carlotta Kauffman-Panek.  The award-winning play is based on Coyote stories from the Northwest and Northern Plains tribes. It was commissioned in 1987 by the Kennedy Center of Performing Arts and today has been performed in venues throughout the world.

The public was invited to a Prayer Walk from 7 to 8 a.m. on Friday, May 7. Participants gathered at the Centennial Trail behind the Doubletree Inn-City Center, 322 North Spokane Falls Court.  They walked on traditional lands of the Spokane Tribe of Indians through Riverfront Park, cross the bridge over the Spokane River, and pause at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial for an Honor Song before returning to the hotel. The walk opened with a prayer by Spokane tribal member Dave Browneagle and will include students from Spokane's Medicine Wheel Academy.

The Native Aspiration attendees were special guests at the Eastern Washington University American Indian Student Pow Wow at Reese Court Pavillion on the Cheney campus where, on Friday, May 7 at 7 p.m., they were welcomed with an Honor Song.

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