Woman working in a factory

Opinion

The Importance of Youth Voice on the Hopi Reservation

Erin Eustace

As the crew leader for Ancestral Lands Hopi Farm Crew 633, this was the first year that people in my community and my generation were willing to listen. For over two years, I have reached out to individuals from all walks of life from the reservation. One thing I experienced growing up on the Hopi Reservation, and now have seen firsthand in my work, is that being a younger member of the community comes with its challenges. In my field of interest, and in the workshops and trainings I attend, I am often the youngest person there.

As native youth, another challenge we face is that we are taught to "be seen and not heard" which creates the stigma that youth do not care enough to make their voice heard. Fortunately, I have been introduced to a network of young adults and elders in our community that support the youth movement. More and more, I am seeing the reins being left with young leaders and I feel that gives those young leaders a better sense of responsibility and independence. Letting us know that we are in the driver's seat and we are responsible for the outcomes of the task at hand empowers me to create a standard of work that I am proud of.

Exposure and involvement in the decision-making processes of adults form a sense of understanding and begins a basic framework of action. Supporting young professionals in their decisions and guiding them with an open heart is important in the workplace, no matter how small the issue. We can’t deny that living on the reservation already presents itself with a list of ongoing problems such as drug abuse in the community, job scarcity, minimal educational opportunities and lack of infrastructure. That being said, if we can remove the current cultural divides and help one another with our past experience and present knowledge, young professionals in this setting can realize their full potential.

My personal experiences shape the work I do today. I was never an exceptional student and simply sitting at a desk did not interest me. The local high school was not challenging me as I felt it should have, therefore I went on a hiatus. It ultimately took me seven years to receive my high school diploma. Throughout these years as a youth on the reservation, I have always been told to "condense" my thoughts and filter them.

As young people, we have a responsibility to voice our solutions and opinions on the direction our futures are headed. Fortunately for me, Ancestral Land's goal for earth stewardship and raising awareness surrounding conservation have impacted my way of living and teaching. Outreach in the community, food preserving techniques, healthy eating habits, and cultural implementation are all areas of work that should be taught to young people. I feel if I moved forward with a sense of empowerment, teaching topics I care about, so can my peers.

As a female of Native American descent, I have my work cut out for me to overcome many hurdles in today's society. Younger girls in the community look up to the work that is being done with a female lead and I feel my responsibility is to show them it can be done and applied to all aspects of their life. It is our responsibility as young professionals to create the conversation around a better future.