Utah’s Native Americans

Last week, I participated in the 8th annual Governor’s Native American Summit at Utah Valley University.  Our compelling theme “Turning Vision into Action” focused on youth and education.  It was a great event—positive, upbeat, and full of energy and hope for young Native Americans.  This is my fifth summit.  Each year has been more productive than the last.

While serving as Lieutenant Governor, Gary Herbert created the Native American Summit. This Summit gives a forum to Utah’s Indian population to network with state agencies and other key organizations. Elected leaders from the eight sovereign tribal nations of Utah meet with the Governor and his top staff to address issues important to them. Our planning committee led by Shirlee Silversmith, the Director of the Utah Division of Indian Affairs, did a wonderful job in accommodating over 500 people and bringing in first-rate presentations.

Almost half of Utah’s Native American population resides along the Wasatch Front, not on reservations as many would believe.   Here’s a little information on tribes in Utah.

Each tribe has its own government, but Utah tribal members are also citizens of Utah and the United States.  They represent 1.5% of Utah’s population.  We are currently working with our Native American tribes quite aggressively to improve poverty, unemployment, education and graduation rates, alcoholism and drug use rates, abuse and suicide rates, and provide adequate and preventive health care.  Much has been accomplished, but there is still much that must be done to improve Native Americans’ quality of life—with education being the key.

Indian student dropout rates in rural areas range from 60-80%. They face many cultural challenges in school. Innovative programs and teaching methods must be adopted to help them succeed. Also, incentives and scholarships are vital to those who want to go to college and further their education.   

At this year’s Summit, we debuted the Summit’s first Youth Track, which featured youth-specific informational sessions focused on education and leadership. We heard from three incredible Native keynote speakers, South Dakota Leader Elsie Meeks, and two young Piute Leaders, Annette Nikki Borchardt, and Xavier Garcia. Ms. Borchardt and Mr. Garcia are both young, successful college graduates who have used their degrees to inspire their communities and create change from the ground up. These community leaders are truly inspiring. They spoke about their personal stories, their advice to youth, and their visions for improving Native American communities, with education being the common thread connecting their success stories. The theme of this Summit, “Turning Vision into Action,” is a challenge that starts with education