Mindfulness Practices for Indigenous Youth serves Indigenous students grades 6–12 living in McKinley County New Mexico. These young people are participants in Project Venture, an evidence-based, culturally responsive positive youth development program tailored to Indigenous youth. The project aims to co-create culturally responsive mindfulness practices, with the input of an advisory committee of Indigenous elders. The newly co-created mindfulness practices will be piloted and evaluated during Project Venture’s intensive summer camp. The refined mindfulness practices will be integrated into Project Venture’s in-school/afterschool activities in the new school year, with the support of online coaching and training, as needed. This project is a collaboration between the Rio Grande Mindfulness Institute and the National Indian Youth Leadership Project, with the goal to integrate culturally responsive mindfulness practices into Project Venture to increase the tools that Indigenous youth can use to contend with overwhelming historical and contemporary trauma, further exacerbated by COVID-19.

Organizations implementing the project

The Rio Grande Mindfulness Institute (RGMI) is a branch of Mountain Cloud Zen Center, a 501(c)3 practice community rooted in the Sanbo Zen lineage. The Center is guided by Valerie Forstman and Henry Shukman Roshi, author of One Blade of Grass. RGMI is co-directed by Henry Shukman and John Braman. The Center’s campus and buildings were created in 1985 by Philip Kapleau Roshi, a student of Yasutani Hakuun Roshi who established Sanbo Zen in 1954, popularized in the West by the book, The Three Pillars of Zen. Mountain Cloud offers in-person and online meditation opportunities with the aim of reducing suffering for all beings and creating a more peaceful and loving world. In 2016, RGMI was created to offer secular, trauma-informed trainings for educators, social service workers, and teens. RGMI provides tools for greater mental focus, emotional regulation, and equanimity to address the enormous stress found within contemporary life. RGMI is responsive to client needs, customizing programs for specific organizational circumstances and participants’ personal readiness, including day-long retreats, skill-building in-person retreats, online retreats, hour-long introductory workshops, theme-based workshops in a series, and multi-day teen retreats. RGMI matches facilitator assignments with audience culture and profession. For example, workshops for 400 Albuquerque Public Schools Arts Department members were facilitated by staff who are themselves artists or have worked in arts education. RGMI facilitators include those certified through Inward Bound Mindfulness Education (iBme), an organization dedicated to mindfulness programming for youth and adult learners, with a trauma-sensitive lens. RGMI is committed to an ongoing practice of anti-racism and integrates diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (DEIb) into organizational structures, processes, and programs. Since its founding, the project has directly served 1,400 individuals from 140 schools and 50 social service agencies, indirectly impacting 140,000 youth.

Project Venture, a program of the National Indian Youth Leadership Project, is RGMI’s partner in the Mindfulness Practices for Indigenous Youth initiative. NIYLP is a New Mexico-based, Indigenous-led 501(c)3 nonprofit organization working for nearly 35 years to develop healthy Indigenous communities through positive youth development programs. NIYLP is a national leader in experiential education and Indigenous positive youth development. NIYLP's flagship program, Project Venture, is an evidence-based, culturally guided, outdoor experiential youth adventure program developed over decades of work with Indigenous youth. Project Venture has been proven to reduce negative outcomes and improve positive outcomes for high-risk, underserved Indigenous youth. Evaluation outcomes show reductions in risky behaviors including substance abuse, teen pregnancy, violence, depression, and anxiety; and increases in positive youth development indicators including those related to competency, connection, character, caring, confidence, and contribution. Recognized as an Evidence-Based Model

Program by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and identified as the most effective program for Indigenous youth in a national SAMHSA study on high-risk youth, Project Venture is in demand in Indigenous communities. In addition to direct services, NIYLP works with communities to provide capacity building training, technical assistance, and outreach support to Project Venture replication sites using an established technical assistance process with detailed guidelines. Over the last three decades, Project Venture has served thousands of Indigenous and at-risk youth in more than 90 replication sites across 25 states, including Alaska and Hawaii, Canada, Jamaica, and Europe. The long-term potential of Mindfulness Practices for Indigenous Youth is to reach thousands of Indigenous youth nationally and internationally with culturally relevant practices that can decolonize mental states, build resilience, and strengthen community.

Mind & Life Connections