Opening comments for Friday session on Native youth at National Native Media Conference.

Mark Trahant


Good morning. I want to congratulate all of those who made the banquet last night — especially when A Tribe Called Red was performing across town at the same time. This is the year of Native Youth. On Twitter we’ve seen #DearNativeYouth and #InvestInNativeYouth trending as well as the deep and personal interest from the President of the United States. And, yesterday, of course, was the historic White House Tribal Youth Gathering where the First Lady of the United States, Michelle Obama, called Native Youth precious and sacred members of society. “We have your back,” she told them.

But the challenge now is to move beyond the rhetoric. We all know Indian Country is a young population and the velocity of reform, of investment, needs to speed up just to stay even. 

This is the true Digital Native generation; young people connected tribe to tribe, person to person, in ways that our would amaze our ancestors. Just yesterday social media linked thousands; creating many life long friendships that will continue digitally on Facebook, Instagram and the even more honest back and forth of SnapChat. Think about this for a second: these Digital Natives have collected more media, more pictures, more music, more video, more life stories, than any generation in history. 

Technology — and the connections made via social media — are opening up new opportunities for young people. I mentioned A Tribe Called Red — musicians who might be the ideal metaphor for blending technology and tradition, fusing music into something new and fresh. Yesterday they released a new mix with Buffy St. Marie (who’s been performing for five decades). New and old is new.

Today someone living in a remote village in Alaska can make and market traditional baskets on Etsy; or produce videos on YouTube; or write computer code. In 1971 the Unix computer, the biggest, baddest machine there was, had a couple hundred thousand lines of code. Today an automobile has 90 million lines of code. And we are only at the beginning of this digital future. One that we must be prepared to shape.

And so our conversation begins today. We will start with Secretary Jewel and her impressions from the historic White House Tribal Youth Gathering.

QUESTION: We know that Indian Country’s population is young. We say that a lot — and the idea itself carries a lot of promise. But it also requires us to step up the pace because there is a greater percentage of young people. So we must increase the velocity of success — just to stay even. And that of course is not good enough. How do we do better? How do we create more opportunity while we’re in a demographic wave?

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Mark Trahant

Mark Trahant is an independent journalist. He currently serves as the Charles R. Johnson Professor at the University of North Dakota.

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