Fifth-grader and Citizen Potawatomi Nation tribal member Bryce McNally explored his interests in school, sports and leadership activities throughout the past two years. He participates in three teams and other programs designed to help him stand out and find what he enjoys. This includes leadership groups such as the Sacramento Native American Health Clinic’s Native Youth Ambassadors.
McNally and his mom Dawniell Black attended the Family Reunion Festival in 2016 when their Potawatomi family, the Pappans, were an honored family. McNally learned how to drum that summer, and it sparked his interest in Native culture.
Now, they find ways to engage in the Native American community near where they live in Sacramento, California. McNally joined the ambassadors program in October 2018. It is part of the clinic’s Circles of Care, which focuses on providing mental health care and resources to patients.
The youth ambassadors assist the health center by aiding in creating programs for those with mental health challenges and hosting supportive events throughout the community. Jeanine Gaines, a SNAHC employee and McNally’s aunt, informed Black about the center’s positions for younger children — Little SNAHCs or junior ambassadors.
Both of them thought McNally sounded like a perfect fit. He applied to become a member of the first group of Little SNAHCs at 9 years old.
“My mom told me about it, and I was like, ‘Oh, that would probably be good.’ So, I thought about it, and then I knew that I was ready to do it,” he said.
“I like learning about different things in the Native American community, and I like being around kids and learning about them. It’s a good way to meet people.”
Black works as the program specialist for curriculum professional learning for the Elk Grove Unified School District. She described the district’s Native American education program as “going through transition,” and McNally experienced limited interaction with other Indigenous students at school.
“I’m always trying to find ways to help him connect because sometimes that doesn’t always happen in the classroom like we’d like it to,” she said. “I really think opportunities that you get to meet other kids who you have something in common with but also who are a little different than you is really important.”
As a fourth-grader, McNally ran for student body vice president as a second-year transfer and won. He participated in student leadership activities every week. When Black told him about the ambassador group, McNally decided he wanted to take on another leadership role.
After being accepted, he began attending monthly meetings. He met his mentor, an 18-year-old ambassador named Mison Cadwet, who he admires. His friendships with the older, hardworking participants encourage him to become a leader and attend college.
The ambassadors explain the basics of assisting someone who reaches out with a mental health challenge to the juniors, and McNally understands the importance of offering resources.
“I would help them if they need help on a certain questions or they need help on certain things,” he said. He also focuses on having a positive, inclusive attitude.
McNally enjoys the icebreakers, activities and games the group plays. One of his favorite exercises from his time spent as a junior ambassador is reminiscent of a traditional talking circle; people speak uninterrupted to the group as a feather or some other item moves clockwise through the participants.
“We would pass a ball, and I think we would tell our birthday, our favorite thing and our name,” McNally said.
He also learns about Native American history during his time at the SNAHC, which Black appreciates as a former history teacher.
“A lot of times in school, Natives are taught in the past (tense). Being part of this program helps them recognize that it’s the present tense, too,” she explained. “I think it kind of balances what he’s getting or not getting in school.”
McNally anticipates becoming an ambassador and mentoring a junior as well as playing basketball, participating in events with the National Society for Black Engineers and learning more about Potawatomi culture.
“It makes me feel good about myself, how I’ve been working hard,” he said. “And it makes my mom proud.”
To find out more about the Circles of Care and Native Youth Ambassador program, visit snahc.org/circles-of-care.