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Tribal Youth Media Program: Innovates Native Storytelling


Closing digital education gaps and implementing a sense of belonging to a greater community; these are just some of the lessons Patty Loew strives to instill during the Tribal Youth Media program.

As a Bad River Band of Lake Superior Ojibwe member, Loew has observed firsthand the importance of teaching middle and high school Native students the skills needed to thrive in a high-tech world. 

Introducing New Technological Skills 

The Tribal Youth Media program is a four-week summer workshop tailored to Native middle and high school students. Initially launched in 2005 on the Lac Courte Oreilles reservation, the project has since expanded to be part of Bad River’s Summer Youth Program. 

Throughout the four weeks, Loew and her team help kids create short documentaries that inspect cultural and natural landscape changes caused by climate change in their communities.

Skills like photojournalism, videography, web design, digital music composition, and editing are the in-demand lessons the Tribal Youth Media program addresses. 

One of Loew’s primary goals for the summer program is to shorten the blatant educational divide Native students face by utilizing a widespread Native cultural practice; storytelling. Across the board, most tribes relied and continue to rely on oral storytelling to pass on history, life lessons, and tribe-specific religious practices.

Because most Native American tribes incorporate rich storytelling, Loew and the Tribal Youth Media program innovate this tradition by utilizing technology and media outlets. 

By blending new technological skills with an age-old tradition, Tribal Youth Media participants are more likely to become leaders in their communities.

Also, students walk away from the program more confident and empowered, knowing they now have the essential skills in a variety of digital outlets. 

Breaking Down Educational Barriers 

For Loew, the Tribal Youth Media program has the opportunity to radically shift the educational divide Native students face.

For example, for some students, basic internet access is a luxury. Without reliable internet, students risk further disadvantages in terms of their education and future as a whole. 

The Tribal Youth Media project introduces students to the endless possibilities technology carries and instills a sense of self-confidence that may have been broken down during the school year.

According to Loew, a lot of what the program does is attempting to “undo what’s been done to them emotionally in the school year.” 

The Tribal Youth Media program’s long-term effects cannot be understated. Across the country, Native students face many educational challenges most non-Native students don’t have.

For example, Native students are less likely to have family members that attended college, more likely to need grants to attend college, and have less access to college prep classes in high school.

Then, these educational obstacles can lead to fewer opportunities and greater difficulty in advancing economically. 

Although the Tribal Youth Media program only runs for four weeks, the lessons and skills participants absorb are ones they can carry for years down the road. Also, the combination of traditional Native storytelling and technology offers a productive way to preserve tribe traditions.

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