Envisioning Future Indigenous Leaders

Seven Generations 2020

The issues plaguing Indigenous peoples in New Mexico in the mid-twentieth were not unique to this region. Native people across the country were fighting against a federal termination policy that sought to dissolve reservations and end federal aid and services to tribes. Federal agents took children from their homes, either through forced adoptions or by way of boarding schools, which sought to assimilate Native children into “white” society.

Native scholars and activists—and some well-meaning Anglos—knew that the next generation of leaders would need to have tools to navigate a political landscape that was actively working to erase them and their communities. In response, they established annual meetings and workshops where students from across the country could meet and discuss the future of Native Americans in the US.

In 1955, members of the Anglo-led organization New Mexico Association on Indian Affairs (NMAIA) co-sponsored a conference with the University of New Mexico’s Native organization, KIVA Club, which was founded in 1952. The first meeting was held in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and attracted students from local Pueblos and tribes for an intertribal dialogue. By the 1957 meeting in Albuquerque, New Mexico, the gathering—now called the Regional Indian Youth Council (RIYC)—had grown to include students from tribes near the Four Corners region. Subsequent RIYC meetings in Arizona and Utah attracted young men and women from more far-flung states.

Future National Indian Youth Council leaders Mel Thom (Paiute), Herb Blatchford (Diné), Joan Noble (Ute), and Clyde Warrior (Ponca) attended the RIYC meetings and the Workshop on American Indian Affairs. In 1956, anthropologists at the University of Chicago established these workshops to serve a similar role as the RIYC. Native college students from across the United States met in Chicago for six intensive weeks of study and discussion on racism, colonialism, termination, and relocation.