SHIPROCK, NM – The Navajo Nation Division of Behavioral & Mental Health Services (DBMHS) hosted community members in Shiprock and surrounding area at the annual Youth Traditional Cultural Summit at the Shiprock Youth Complex on June 27 & 28. The two days were filled with fun and educational workshops and activities touching on traditional growth and development, native child worldview, clan systems, self-identity and much more.

Youth of all ages, along with their families and relatives attended the summit to learn various traditional concepts in youth development. One traditional practitioner at DBMHS, T.J. Anderson lead a session about traditional growth and development, how to use the traditional teachings, songs and prayers to continue to grow as a Diné person, learning to use the traditional language when it comes to raising children, and developing mentally physically and spiritually.

“We started the session by asking the children what came to mind when they saw the topic and what did they’d like to learn about traditional growth,” Anderson explained. “The young ones had a lot of questions and instead of us just talking at them, it was more of us just communicating. We had a good conversation that way and I felt the feedback from the young ones was very positive, they are willing to learn.”

DBMHS continues to promote balance and harmony in native communities through inward healing and personal growth through teachings of the ‘Diné Lifeway.’ The concepts and teachings presented at this year’s summit were intended to help families become empowered to overcome challenges and understand the reason behind the teachings that Navajo people grew up hearing from older generations.

“The more we talk to with families and community members, both young and old, we’ve come to realize that the youth of living by these traditional teachings is fragmented to some degree,” he explained. “It was thought that because the language and culture was not being taught in homes, it might be one of the reasons why our people are struggling, because they don’t have the inner-strength and that protection that the elders carried with them daily.”

The summit took place at the Shiprock Youth Complex in partnership with Office of Diné Youth (ODY) whose staff lead many of the recreational and ice breaker activities. Denise Thomas, department manager for the Office of Diné Youth said that her department and DBMHS are trying to work together to address the epidemics concerning Navajo youth such as substance abuse and suicide through prevention programs and events such as the Youth Cultural Summit.

“We are a direct service program,” Thomas explained. “We’ve been working [with DBMHS], meeting on a monthly basis, talking about how we can implement these programs within the facilities and then going out to team up on other stuff.”