Tessa Buttram and Kylie Hunter

On Thursday, January 17, 2019, the Center for Native American Youth at the Aspen Institute held a forum on Youth-Led Organizing and Civic Engagement in the Outdoors. The Fresh Tracks program convened leaders to share their experience using the outdoors as a platform to build leadership skills, learn about and celebrate one another’s diverse cultures, and create community action plans for confronting issues at the intersection of social and environmental justice.

Fresh Tracks is a program for young people that take place over a few days within a nature setting. The program consists of, “working and learning together, that participants moved through a series of interactive workshops focused on personal narrative, leadership IQ, civic engagement, and community organizing- all skills the participants used to develop community action plans for their communities.” The three focus areas of the program are civic engagement, cultural exchange, and leadership development in the outdoors.

The panel of former participants included Devin Edwards, Anthony Tamez, Carina Cisneros, and Kyra Antone. Many of them are now trainers for the program and enrolled in college. The participants stated that through the program they learned about nature, learned about new cultures and how to appreciate their own culture more learned how to express themselves with an opportunity to share their culture with others. They also learned to understand and enjoy nature while learning about diversity on a deeper level.

President Obama contacted the Center of Native American Youth at the Aspen Institute to encourage them to create a new initiative that would, according to Michael Smith, Director of the Youth Opportunity Programs at the Obama Foundation and My Brother’s Keeper Alliance, “broaden horizons for young Americans facing persistent opportunity gaps.” The program hopes to bring young people together to learn more about diversity among each other, helping them think differently on how to take action on things that are important to them, with a dedication to bringing young people and nature together.

One of the former participants, Kyra Antone, said: “the Fresh Tracks program helped her to feel comfortable in her own skin for the first time in her life.” Kyra stated that the program inspired her to advocate to have Columbus Day changed to Indigenous People Day in Pullman, Washington last year. Many remarked that the program had a positive impact on the young people that participated and they hope that more young people will have the opportunity to participate in this program in the future.

For more information on the Fresh Tracks program, you can visit their website at https://freshtracksaction.org/.