NYRA is called “National Youth Rights Association”, referring to the “nation” of the United States. However, the land commonly called the United States has many other names, having been nurtured by Indigenous peoples for thousands of years. It is part of Turtle Island (what you may know as North America) and carries stories of pain, of bloodshed, of promising treaties sharply broken, of people being brutally murdered and being violently pushed off the lands to which they belong and which they did not believe one could own, only live upon and care for. The land that I live on, that you live on, that NYRA staff and volunteers do their work on, is, has been, and will continue to be Indigenous land.
The wounds that have been inflicted upon the land and upon the Indigenous peoples of the land can only begin to be healed through the continual work of decolonization, reparation, and rematriation. It is hard work, for sure, but it is necessary work, and colonizer peoples must be as committed — if not more — to it as Indigenous peoples.
Youth oppression and the colonization of Turtle Island are deeply intertwined. Not only could youth in many Indigenous cultures play an active, useful part in the society around them, but European youth played an essential role in colonization by bearing the brunt of adjustment to Turtle Island. The ageist school system that exists today was developed to forcefully assimilate Indigenous youth at a POW camp called the Carlisle Indian Industrial School – the camp’s founder and superintendent Captain Richard Henry Pratt said that his goal was to “kill the Indian in him, and save the man” and since 1918 almost every American school has been based on his model. The strongest opposition to Pratt’s school system is coming from our south in Chiapas, Mexico, where an Indigenous rebel group called the Zapatistas are using self-directed education to keep their cultures alive, succeeding despite poverty, a lack of resources and equipment, and direct attacks from the State attempting to break the rebels’ will to resist.
The NYRA team resides on the lands of the Lenape, the Pawtucket, the Massa-adchu-es-et, the Ohlone, and the Nacotchtank, among other tribes and nations. We encourage you to look up and research the Indigenous peoples whose lands you live on and to reflect upon how you can better align your actions and work with the ongoing process of decolonization. Native Land is a good resource for beginning this work, with the understanding that your work does not end with any reading, reflection, or action.