Sharing Cultures, Igniting Futures in Indiana


Since early June, Fresh Tracks has impacted three diverse cohorts of aspiring and accomplished youth leaders representing urban, rural, and tribal communities in all regions of the United States.

That momentum continued over the weekend of August 10-12 at the Dunes Learning Center in the heart of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. The third Fresh Tracks Training of 2018 brought together young adults from states and tribal nations all over the Midwest. 

States Represented: Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, North Dakota, and Ohio 

Tribal Nations: Fort Berthold, Cheyenne River, Turtle Mountain Chippewa, Navajo, Sicangu Lakota, Northern Cheyenne, Gros Ventre, White Earth Ojibwe, Keweenaw Bay Ojibwe, Standing Rock Sioux, Crow, Menominee

We are grateful for the generosity of our sponsors - Walmart Foundation, REI, Casey Family Programs, and the Newman’s Own Foundation - who are investing in the next generation of leaders and to our partners  - the Children & Nature Network’s Natural Leaders, the My Brother’s Keeper Alliance at the Obama Foundation, and Opportunity Youth United - who collectively provide essential support on programming, recruiting, and strategy.

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 These sponsors and partners have made it possible to hold three regional training programs in 2018. And we are now recruiting participants for our fourth experience of the year, the Southwest and Intermountain Training in Abiquiú, New Mexico.

Exploring cultures together

The spirit of cultural sharing began at a pre-training gathering in Chicago, where CNAY Champion for Change and Fresh Tracks Trainer Anthony Tamez (Wuskwi Sipihk First Nations Cree/Sicangu Lakota/Black) hosted a welcome feast at the Chicago American Indian Center for staff and fellow trainers. Later, at the Herrick Lake Forest Preserve, urban, rural, and tribal youth paddled Herrick Lake and explored the outdoors together after being welcomed by a hand drum song from members of the Chi-Nations Youth Council.

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At a Cultural Share on Saturday evening, the participants shared meaningful aspects of their cultures, from jewelry, beadwork, Mexican ‘dulce’ candies, and weaving to spoken word poetry and a strategic plan presentation by the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Youth Council that would set the tone for an inspiring session on the final day.


Fresh Tracks does not just train young adults to be leaders. Fresh Tracks gives young leaders the support they need to transform their dreams of change into action.  On Sunday afternoon, near the conclusion of the Midwest Training, the participants gathered together in Action Teams to pitch projects they had developed to a mock panel of city council members.


 For the participants, it was an opportunity to practice the real-world process of persuasion. What does it take to convince decision makers that an idea meets the political, financial, and logistical criteria to to actually get implemented?

One-by-one, each group addressed the panel, which heard a variety of proposals. True to the Fresh Tracks spirit, most Actions Teams were made up of both Native and non Native youth, bringing cross-cultural influences to each project, including: 

  • A program that connects youth to the outdoors through gardening, develops math and science skills, models the importance of self care, and generates operating revenue from the sale of harvested fruits and vegetables.


  • A leadership camp to help Native American youth experience nature - physically and spiritually - as a way to give them purpose, exposure to the outdoors through hiking, camping, and fishing, and the means to bring nature back to the city by creating gardens and other urban outdoor spaces.


  • A school-based program to engage experts to develop environmental education curriculum in partnership with other community organizations. The premise: nature-based learning reduces stress levels and school violence and helps researchers expand the knowledge base about the alternative approaches to education - a community benefit for all.


  • An anthology of stories and essays by young indigenous writers that would be relevant for communities of color and educational for non-Native audiences. The CNAY Movement Builders Fellows who pitched the project noted that they have actually raised enough funding to cover the the costs of a small printing and to produce an ebook that will be downloadable on a suggested donation basis.

The panel responded with questions the Fresh Tracks participants might expect to hear in a public proceeding. How will this benefit the community? What is the source of your funding? Which community groups have pledged support for your project? The panel also pushed each group to consider critical points - from the strategic value of matching grants to the importance of using the language of the entities they were petitioning.


As the participants in the Midwest Training at the Dunes Learning Center return to their communities equipped with new skills,  knowledge, and connections to fuel their plans for action, Fresh Tracks is preparing for the fourth regional training of 2018 - in Abiquiú, New Mexico. Thank you to all of the sponsors and partners who are making these experiences possible.