All About Youth Councils
The following articles provide a general overview of the steps a Native youth group may use to form a youth council. There are also links to documents that contain a more detailed explanation of the process. The documents may be read online or downloaded and stored on a personal computer for quick access.
The National UNITY Council (NUC) was established in 1992 to serve as the representative arm of the UNITY Network. It is made up of a young man and young woman from each Affiliated Youth Council, who represent their respective youth councils on the NUC.
To learn more about the NUC's purposes and structure, refer to the attached Constitution and Bylaws of the National UNITY Council.
WHAT IS A YOUTH COUNCIL?
Native American youth can make a difference, but first they must be organized and prepared for action. An effective way to accomplish this is through a youth council. A youth council represents a practical way of enabling youth to have a meaningful role in helping solve community problems. Types of youth councils include:
- Tribal Youth Councils
- Alaska Native Village Youth Councils
- Urban Youth Councils
- High School Indian Clubs
- College or University Native American Associations
- A Church-sponsored Youth Group
- An Independent Youth Group
Keep in mind that youth councils are just as diverse as Native America itself. Each youth council maintains its own identity and is built upon the needs and values of that particular community.
By being involved with a youth council, young Native Americans can use their combined talents and energy to address major concerns facing them today. Youth design and promote their own programs to fit their needs.
Young people who are involved with youth councils learn to accept responsibility. They grow through achievement and in the knowledge that they are making a real contribution to their community and to Native America.
What does a Youth Council do?
Each youth council determines its activities based on its own needs. Needs can be identified through discussions with members, interviews, surveys, and other types of research. Once needs are determined, youth councils develop their own action plan to implement their activities.
As affiliates of the UNITY Network, youth councils are expected to conduct activities in community service, cultural heritage, environment, and healthy lifestyles.
For example, UNITY Network affiliated youth councils have:
- volunteered to help the elderly or handicapped
- presented workshops on leadership, peer pressure and school participation
- established a college scholarship
- sponsored youth camps and conferences
- started own business
- sponsored food and clothing drives
- conducted bone marrow tissue typing drive
- sponsored health forums and health career day
- raised money for an infant heart transplant
- purchased Christmas toys for less fortunate children
- sponsored trash clean up days
- participated in beading and craft classes
- sponsored alcohol and drug free dances or skate-a-thons
- raised money for a recreation center
- participated in a governor’s page program
The benefits youth gain from participating in a youth council depend on what each member puts into the council. If youth make the most of their opportunities they will:
- learn how to work with other young people
- build strong and lasting friendships
- develop greater self-esteem and self-confidence
- develop communication skills
- develop leadership skills
- develop organizational skills
- gain self-worth and inner-strength to battle negative peer pressure
- develop winning attitudes
- learn how to take responsibility for their actions
- contribute to making a difference in Native America
As a member of the UNITY Network, I
...accept spirituality as an important foundation for a healthy, balanced lifestyle;
...recognize that pride in my culture and preservation of my heritage give me strength and dignity;
...will be honest, understanding and respectful of the diversity and uniqueness of self, others and our environment;
...know the importance of refraining from the abuse of alcohol, tobacco and drugs to maintain physical and mental well-being in order to be a positive role model for present and future generations, and finally
...make a personal commitment to strive toward reaching my full potential.
Advisors are key to having effective youth councils. The type of advisor will determine to a great extent the success of the youth council.
To be successful, an advisor must have the respect, trust, and confidence of youth council members as well as of their parents and officials of the sponsoring organization.
An effective advisor is:
- Dedicated and determined
- Persistent and consistent
- A good listener
Advisors assume a variety of roles and responsibilities. They may be a guide, a counselor, a motivator, a promoter, or a coach. However, the advisor’s primary role is that of a facilitator.
An advisor must be sure that youth council officers understand their roles and insist that they know how to conduct an effective meeting. Although the primary responsibility for bringing youth council projects and activities to successful completion rests with the youth involved, the advisor will be called upon to supply a great deal of information and guidance.
An advisor takes steps to keep partisan politics out of youth council meetings and activities. They set a positive example by not speaking against elected leaders or officials of the sponsoring organization and insisting youth council leaders do likewise.
Advisors perform other duties including:
- monitoring funds,
- filing annual reports to the UNITY office,
- obtaining medical release forms when youth take trips,
- serving as liaison between youth and youth council’s sponsoring organization,
- encouraging active participating of each youth council member,
- encouraging the goals of UNITY,
- creating opportunities for youth councils, and
- assuming the responsibilities and duties of a chaperon.
At youth council meetings, advisors should help develop effective relationships among youth. An advisor should promote communication techniques that make youth council members feel better about themselves, help them express their feelings, and encourage them to talk in a setting which is free from threats or fear, such as a talking circle.
The advisor monitors meetings and activities to ensure that the youth council does not become a clique or an elitist group and to ensure that a few of the members don’t dominate every meeting or get all the media attention.
An advisor demonstrates trust. As trust develops among youth council members and the advisor, it is much easier for individual members to learn how their behavior affects the rest of the group and to modify this behavior if necessary or appropriate.
Advisors should always keep in mind that the youth council belongs to the youth. The advisor assists members in every way possible, but the meetings and projects are planned by members. The advisor must not misuse the youth council by pushing their personal agenda upon the members.
The personal conduct of an advisor is extremely important – not only in youth council meetings – but at all times. The advisor is a friend who relates well with youth, but does not try to be a youth. They must know where to “draw the line.” The advisor is a role model and one who is entrusted by parents to work with their sons and daughters. The quickest way to destroy a youth council is for an advisor to do something that might violate this trust relationship.
The advisor holds a very challenging position because youth council members will model the leadership they demonstrate. Ultimately, a youth council’s success depends greatly on the attitude, commitment, and overall effectiveness of an advisor.
In short, a good advisor serves as…..
Facilitator Consultant Teacher Observer Promoter Positive Role Model
When possible, an advisory council should be formed from representatives of various youth-serving organizations to assist with youth council programs and development.