The success of CPN’s own Child Development Center is a testament to the emphasis that communities place on the importance of childhood education. As tribal youth age, the benefits of structure and supervision outside of school hours can be lost. Those few unsupervised hours can have real consequences for teenagers and their communities.
“Youth councils like CPN’s FireLodge Youth Council originally started as a place for reservation youth to meet and have some positive structure,” said Michael Logan, CPN Youth Prevention Specialist. “Because we’ve found that if you don’t have those positive structures, young people are going to be involved in things that can become bigger problems for the community down the line.”
Logan and Family and Community Service Manager B.J. Trousdale act as the adult supervisors of the youth council, but the group’s participants are represented by two of their own members. Trae Trousdale, an 8th grader from Tecumseh and Allison Creek, a junior at Dale, serve as the organization’s co-presidents.
“I first became involved in FireLodge Youth when a friend asked me to come to a meeting with her to check it out,” said co-President Allison Creek. “The program for tribal youth is important because it gives each of us the opportunity to get more involved in our community. On top of that, we get to know more about Native American culture.”
The organization is in its fourth year and has grown from 12 members in 2009 to its current 32 participants. FireLodge Youth Council formed with the help of UNITY, an Oklahoma City-based organization which promotes positive outcomes for tribal youth. With support from UNITY, FireLodge drafted its own constitution and bylaws in 2009 and has since been serving the communities around CPN headquarters.
Given how connected those communities are, FireLodge is not an exclusively Potawatomi organization. While its aim is to provide an outlet for local youth to serve the community, the diversity of its members reflects the communities surrounding its home base, the newly opened CPN Gym in Shawnee.
“A program like FireLodge Youth Council is important to youth of every ethnicity. For me it’s been an amazing way to get to know other people my age,” said co-President Trae Trousdale. “It’s a great way to learn responsibility, about our different cultures and how to sit through a meeting.”
“I think the group’s diversity is a good thing,” said B.J. Trousdale. “Having those friends with diverse backgrounds helps them learn about each other and realize everyone comes from different places.”
FireLodge Youth Council meets once a month for their general meeting, but their volunteer work and fundraising gives them the opportunity to work together more often. Their next big fundraising event will be the April 26 Indian Taco Sale. There are hopes that by late May they will be able to host the FireLodge Basketball Tournament, which was recently postponed. In addition to these events, the group also volunteers at tribal pow-wows.
The reward for youth council’s work is an annual field trip, though this year’s destination has yet to be decided. In 2011, the group attended the Minneapolis, Minn. National meeting of UNITY, while last year they traveled to Branson, MO. to participate in a team building exercise.
Due to the costs associated with this year’s UNITY meeting in Los Angeles, Trousdale and Logan are still working on what do to for this year’s trip.
But the uncertainty over their annual trip hasn’t appeared to affect the group. Trousdale told of FireLodge’s most recent meeting where a proposal was brought to a vote that would have sent a few of the group to the L.A. meeting while the rest remained in Oklahoma.
“We had an anonymous vote, and out of the thirty kids there, I expected at least a couple to vote for the proposal,” explained Trousdale. “But it was a consensus; they all said we should do something together. I think that speaks a lot to their view of each other as family.”
CPN’s first tribal youth program was established in 1990, and initially focused on serving youth who became involved in the juvenile justice system. After a brief lull in the program’s funding, it was refinanced by way of a five year federal grant in 2009, becoming the current FireLodge Youth Council program. Under the new direction, the program aims to serve all tribal youth in a preventative effort to promote positive outcomes. All staff members have either at least 60 college credit hours, a Bachelor’s or graduate degree and have received 32 hours of intense youth worker training.
If you or someone you know is interested in learning more about the FireLodge Youth Council, contact either Michael Logan (firstname.lastname@example.org) or BJ Trousdale (email@example.com). Their next meeting will take place on April 11 at 6 p.m. at the CPN Gym located at 2346 S Gordon Cooper Dr. Shawnee Oklahoma 74801.