N.M. - When you hear Waverly Yazzie speak about her dream of having
empowered youth in her community leading efforts to improve Tohajiilee,
you would probably guess that she is far older than twelve. Indeed,
Waverly is a seventh grader from the Tohajiilee community of the Navajo
Nation who is spearheading efforts to create the Tohajiilee Youth
And this week, Waverly, her mother Dee Apache, and other members
of the Native Health Initiative will head to Washington D.C. for
the annual meeting of the American Public Health Association (APHA)
to hear Waverly speak about the importance of youth leadership in
health efforts. Waverly's presentation, "Youth Leading the
Way to Healthier Communities" will allow her, at 12 years of
age, to present to public health leaders from the country.
"I am excited to represent proudly for my community and
for the youth who are working to make positive changes in Tohajiilee,"
says Waverly, admitting that she is also a bit nervous about speaking
at the nation's largest public health conference. Indeed, of the
13,000 who will gather next week at the APHA meeting, there are
less than 20 youth, and even fewer youth presenters.
The idea for a youth council arose in the last year as Waverly
and other youth from her community realized that there needed to
be more options for youth in Tohajiilee, and that youth needed a
voice to share their concerns and perspectives to the Chapter House
leadership and tribal programs. They have already begun to map out
short- and long-term goals for the group, including getting representation
on the Tohajiilee Health Board, creating a one-on-one program for
visiting elders, and raising awareness about hard-to-talk-about
health issues that affect youth.
"I think that there are a lot of things that we need to
learn about and talk about, such as substance abuse and mental health
issues...sometimes, these subjects are kept hidden, which allows
them to continue to grow in our community," says Waverly.
When you hear from the adult allies who are working to support
the Youth Council's efforts, the praise for Waverly is impressive.
"I see her as a leader who understands our Dine' philosophy
on leading with the heart, not the ego, says Sarah Bitsui, a cultural
specialist who works for Tohajiilee Behavioral Health. "She
is really a great example for the adult world on how to lead with
The Native Health Initiative (NHI) invited Waverly to serve
in its 2011 Summer Internship program, with her task being to take
the idea of the youth council and make it into a reality. Elaine
Shutiva (Acoma), one of NHI's Coordinators, recalls that Waverly
and her peers volunteered long hours to get the Tohajiilee Youth
Council off the ground. "We always try to let the youth lead,
to support them but not get in the way, and in this case, they made
it quite easy."
You can find out more about youth leadership opportunities,
including Youth Leading the Way project grants (for youth to create
and carry out projects to improve their communities) and the Healers
of Tomorrow program (meant to mentor Native youth interested in
health careers) by visiting the NHI website (www.lovingservice.us)
or by contacting Elaine (firstname.lastname@example.org).