The Juneau teens who attended the 2019 LeadOn Conference decided to focus their community project on building healthy relationships and culture through the Native Youth Olympics (NYO). Formed in the fall of 2017 to reintroduce Native Games as a sport to the schools, Juneau NYO is more than just a sports team. Along with training year-round, the NYO program includes study groups, community volunteering, and a leadership program to train a generation of NYO coaches. Not only do youth work to excel as athletes, but they are mentored to become strong, caring, responsible humans connected to their culture and their community. The Juneau LeadOn Team planned to incorporate healthy relationship discussions into practices. Trainer Gene Tagaban was chosen to present in person, while coaches explored the Coaching Boys Into Men and COMPASS toolkits as guides for these discussions. Additionally, the team planned to demonstrate NYO at the Southeast Alaska biennial Indigenous Celebration event, where they would share not only their sport but also distribute resources and info on healthy relationships and Alaska Native culture.
Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, practices had to stop, and Celebration was canceled. Juneau LeadOn youth still wanted to bring healthy relationship discussions into practice when they were able to resume and shifted to have Gene present virtually. Additionally, new team needs were identified, including the purchase of Seal Skin Kicking Balls, handmade by an elder in Shishmaref. The team wanted to learn to make these themselves and funded the elder to teach them virtually. Because of COVID-19, the project shifted from getting to share NYO and its values with the community to strengthening team members’ healthy relationship skills and ability to participate in the sport.
The Juneau LeadOn team did a great job adjusting their project to COVID times while staying true to their goals. Well done!