Non-profit

Center for Native American Youth

The Center for Native American Youth (CNAY) is a left-of-center education and advocacy project of the center-left Aspen Institute. The Center promotes civic engagement and political activism among Native American youth.

CNAY has accused the United States of continuously perpetrating “systemic racism” and “white supremacy,” while calling on African Americans and Native Americans to band together to fight for “collective liberation. [1] Despite being ostensibly nonpartisan, CNAY praised Native Americans for organizing to swing key states, such as Arizona and Wisconsin, in favor of Democratic candidates in federal elections. [2] That same year, the Center published a report encouraging organizers to “rally” the indigenous vote in key swing states in which Native American voters identified predominately as Democrats. [3] The report received funding from a number of prominent left-of-center foundations, including the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. [4]

History and Programming

In 2011, former U.S. Senator and chair of the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs Byron Dorgan (D-SD), established the Center for Native American Youth (CNAY) as part of the Aspen Institute. [5] Former Sen. Dorgan founded the Center to advance left-of-center policy on education and health care in indigenous communities. [6] CNAY initially focused its efforts on suicide prevention among Native American teens, the rate of which at the time of the Center’s founding was 3.5 times the national average. [7] [8] The Center has since expanded to include five program areas. [9]

Today, CNAY focuses extensively on building political activism among young Native Americans, managing the Generation Indigenous (Gen-I) National Native Youth Network which connects indigenous activists to one another in order to build a base of support for political activism. [10] CNAY also publishes the annual “State of Native Youth” report, which details the priorities of young Native American activists, supports left-of-center policies on education and labor, and encourages identity politics. CNAY’s 2020 report claims that African American individuals and Native Americans must fight for “collective liberation” against the “systemic racism” and “white supremacy” of the United States. The report calls for the removal of all sports mascots related to Native American culture, even at the high school level, and claims that the United States must begin “indigenizing” its education systems to teach Native American culture and values. [11]

To support further political activism, CNAY encourages young Native Americans to promote these left-of-center policies to public officials, organizing the Policy and Resource Roundtable to bring young activists into conversation with politicians. [12] CNAY also works to provide Native American youth with media access and attention in order to promote a positive image of Native American life. [13] The Center continues to focus on teen suicide prevention among young Native Americans as well. [14]

2020 Electoral Efforts

The Center for Native American Youth helped register Native Americans to vote, held registration drives, and set up mail-in-voting throughout the 2020 election cycle. Weeks after the 2020 presidential election cycle, CNAY executive director Nikki Pitre and youth advisory board chairwoman Mikah Carlos wrote an op-ed for Teen Vogue criticizing the media’s lack of coverage about the impact of Native American vote, noting that Native Americans make up 6 percent of the electorate in the crucial swing state of Arizona, which President Joe Biden narrowly won in 2020. [15]

Furthermore, during the 2020 election cycle CNAY representatives advocated for Native American people to build political movements to influence federal elections in support of Democrats. [16] In the same Teen Vogue article, CNAY claimed that mainstream media engaged in the “erasure” of Native Americans and acted to “dehumanize” them in reporting on the election. [17]

Indigenous Futures Study

In early 2020, the Center collaborated with Illuminative and the Native Organizers Alliance to conduct the Indigenous Futures Study and publish “From Protests, to the Ballot Box, and Beyond: Building Indigenous Power,” a report that surveyed and discussed Native American engagement in politics and encouraged Native Americans to organize in favor of Democratic candidates. [18]

The report claimed that Native Americans had the power to influence 77 electoral votes in the 2020 Presidential election and called on Native Americans to build “collective power” in support of left-of-center causes, especially in swing states with large Native American populations. The report aimed to identify the political motivations of indigenous people in order to mobilize Native American populations. [19] The report also found that 31% of Native American voters were motivated to vote for a Native American candidate on the basis of his or her ethnicity alone. [20]

The Center’s report listed that just 12% of Native Americans identify as conservative, while only 7% identify as Republicans. [21] The report also noted that indigenous people living in political swing states identify as Democrats at even higher rates than those of the general indigenous population and called on organizers to use this information to “rally” the indigenous vote in order to shift the outcome of the 2020 election. [22]

The report received funding from a number of left-of-center organizations, including the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, and the Casey Family Programs. [23]

Leadership

Nikki Pitre is the executive director of CNAY. Before becoming executive director, Pitre held other jobs with CNAY, including acting director, associate director, and program manager. Before coming to CNAY, Pitre worked with other Native American-interest organizations including the American Indian Higher Education Consortium. Pitre has also worked with the Aspen Institute’s K-12 Climate Action program. [24]

The CNAY board of advisors includes former Sen. Dorgan, former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD), and former U.S. Senator Gordon Smith (R-OR). The board also includes U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), former NBA coach Phil Jackson, and former NBC news anchor Tom Brokaw. [25]

References

  1. “Native Youth Are Medicine: The State of Native Youth Report 2020.” The Center for Native American Youth, 2020. https://www.cnay.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/CNAY-report-2020.pdf ^
  2. Carlos, Mikah, and Nikki Pitre. “2020 Election Coverage Discounted the Power of Native Voters.” Teen Vogue, November 19, 2020. https://www.teenvogue.com/story/native-voters-2020-election-swing-states. ^
  3. “From Protests, To the Ballot Box, and Beyond: Building Indigenous Power.” The Center for Native American Youth, 2020. https://www.cnay.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/indigenous_Futures_Survey_report_finalforemail.pdf ^
  4. “From Protests, To the Ballot Box, and Beyond: Building Indigenous Power.” The Center for Native American Youth, 2020. https://www.cnay.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/indigenous_Futures_Survey_report_finalforemail.pdf ^
  5. “Aspen Institute Launches Center for Native American Youth Founded by Senator Byron Dorgan.” PR Newswire: . The Aspen Institute, February 28, 2011. https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/aspen-institute-launches-center-for-native-american-youth-founded-by-senator-byron-dorgan-117056938.html. ^
  6. “Aspen Institute Launches Center for Native American Youth Founded by Senator Byron Dorgan.” PR Newswire: . The Aspen Institute, February 28, 2011. https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/aspen-institute-launches-center-for-native-american-youth-founded-by-senator-byron-dorgan-117056938.html. ^
  7. “Aspen Institute Launches Center for Native American Youth Founded by Senator Byron Dorgan.” PR Newswire: . The Aspen Institute, February 28, 2011. https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/aspen-institute-launches-center-for-native-american-youth-founded-by-senator-byron-dorgan-117056938.html.    ^
  8. “Aspen Institute Launches Center for Native American Youth Founded by Senator Byron Dorgan.” PR Newswire: . The Aspen Institute, February 28, 2011. https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/aspen-institute-launches-center-for-native-american-youth-founded-by-senator-byron-dorgan-117056938.html. ^
  9. “About Our Work.” Center for Native American Youth. Accessed January 5, 2021. https://www.cnay.org/our-work/. ^
  10. “Youth Engagement.” Center for Native American Youth. Accessed January 5, 2021. https://www.cnay.org/our-work/youth-engagement-leadership/. ^
  11. “Native Youth Are Medicine: The State of Native Youth Report 2020.” The Center for Native American Youth, 2020. https://www.cnay.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/CNAY-report-2020.pdf ^
  12. “Advocacy & Policy.” Center for Native American Youth. Accessed January 5, 2021. https://www.cnay.org/our-work/advocacy-policy/. ^
  13. “Youth Voices.” Center for Native American Youth. Accessed January 5, 2021. https://www.cnay.org/our-work/youth-voices/. ^
  14. “Suicide Prevention.” Center for Native American Youth. Accessed January 5, 2021. https://www.cnay.org/suicide-prevention/ ^
  15. Carlos, Mikah, and Nikki Pitre. “2020 Election Coverage Discounted the Power of Native Voters.” Teen Vogue. Teen Vogue, November 19, 2020. https://www.teenvogue.com/story/native-voters-2020-election-swing-states. ^
  16. Carlos, Mikah, and Nikki Pitre. “2020 Election Coverage Discounted the Power of Native Voters.” Teen Vogue, November 19, 2020. https://www.teenvogue.com/story/native-voters-2020-election-swing-states. ^
  17. Carlos, Mikah, and Nikki Pitre. “2020 Election Coverage Discounted the Power of Native Voters.” Teen Vogue, November 19, 2020. https://www.teenvogue.com/story/native-voters-2020-election-swing-states. ^
  18. Carlos, Mikah, and Nikki Pitre. “2020 Election Coverage Discounted the Power of Native Voters.” Teen Vogue, November 19, 2020. https://www.teenvogue.com/story/native-voters-2020-election-swing-states. ^
  19. “From Protests, To the Ballot Box, and Beyond: Building Indigenous Power.” The Center for Native American Youth, 2020. https://www.cnay.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/indigenous_Futures_Survey_report_finalforemail.pdf ^
  20. “From Protests, To the Ballot Box, and Beyond: Building Indigenous Power.” The Center for Native American Youth, 2020. https://www.cnay.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/indigenous_Futures_Survey_report_finalforemail.pdf ^
  21. “From Protests, To the Ballot Box, and Beyond: Building Indigenous Power.” The Center for Native American Youth, 2020. https://www.cnay.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/indigenous_Futures_Survey_report_finalforemail.pdf ^
  22. “From Protests, To the Ballot Box, and Beyond: Building Indigenous Power.” The Center for Native American Youth, 2020. https://www.cnay.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/indigenous_Futures_Survey_report_finalforemail.pdf ^
  23. “From Protests, To the Ballot Box, and Beyond: Building Indigenous Power.” The Center for Native American Youth, 2020. https://www.cnay.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/indigenous_Futures_Survey_report_finalforemail.pdf ^
  24. “Nikki Pitre.” Center for Native American Youth. Accessed January 5, 2021. https://www.cnay.org/bios/nikki-pitre/. ^
  25.    “Board Of Advisors.” Center for Native American Youth. Accessed January 5, 2021. https://www.cnay.org/bios/nikki-pitre/.    ^
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