Levi Rickert, editor-in-chief in Native Currents. Discussion »
WASHINGTON DC - Erin Bailey's passion for her work on behalf of American Indians is obvious. Talking to her, one gets the sense she is a fighter for programs she feels are important to improve the lives of American Indians.
“My mom says I was born with a fist raised in the air”
said Bailey with a smile. A native of North Dakota, she graduated from high school in St. Paul, Minnesota and then came to Washington to attend Georgetown University where she graduated.
She then went on to work for retired US Senator Byron Dorgan. Her father served as Senator Dorgan's first intern when he was younger.
Bailey is the director of the Center for Native American Youth housed at the Aspen Institute in DuPont Circle, six blocks from the White House. The Center was established six months ago with a million dollars Senator Dorgan contributed to create the Center with a portion of the money that was leftover from his campaign fund.
Prior to coming to work to establish the Center for Native American Youth, Bailey served as lead Senate Committee on Indian Affairs staffer for the Indian Health Care Improvement Act, which became law in 2010 after several decades to pass it.
You hear in her voice the pride she has in her work helping to get the Act passed in the Senate. As a staff member of she fought hard behind the scenes to get the most for American Indians she could.
"I know I was lucky enough to stand on the shoulders of tribal leaders who worked hard on the Indian Health Care for decades," states Bailey of the passage of the health care act. Her other work includes assisting with the passage of the 7th Generation Promise: Indian Youth Suicide Prevention Act, Special Diabetes Program reauthorization, among other key pieces of legislation for Indian health and social issues.
The mission and emphasis of the six-month old Center is to foster connections and collaborations on all the issues that impact lives of Native youth. The challenge is daunting given these issues include health care, education, housing, access to food, historical trauma, poverty and the most complex issue: high rates of suicide among Native youth.
While in the Senate, Senator Dorgan was chairman of the US Committee on Indian Affairs and he was deeply moved by the tragic high rates of suicides among American Indian youth.
After Senator Dorgan retired from the Senate and decided to establish the Center of Native American Youth, Bailey was pleased to be chosen to lead the Center.
"It was an easy decision. Given the climate of the incoming Congress, I knew it would be a good time to move on and to work for someone who I respect as much as I do - Senator Dorgan," commented Bailey.
The Center does not want to spend its time trying to reinvent the wheel. "I know there are some really good programs in Indian Country for youth, but we do want to connect with tribes and community centers so others are aware of the success stories," said Bailey.
The Center has conducted Youth Roundtables in Indian Country to hear directly from Native youth and tribal officials on the successes, challenges and activities to encourage replication of successful programs. With that in mind, the Center encourages the "one-stop shop" approach on youth programs, scholarships, data and best practices for Native youth suicide prevention.
The Center has an all-star board of advisors that includes, former Senator Byron L. Dorgan, D - North Dakota; Dave Anderson, founder of Famous Dave's; Allison Binney; former NBC anchor Tom Brokaw; Attorney Lucy Calautti; former Senator Tom Daschle, D - South Dakota; Boston Red Sox centerfielder Jacoby Ellsbury; Megan Gregory, youth representative; Pam Gulleson, former state representative, North Dakota ; former Los Angeles Laker coach Phil Jackson; Dana Lee Jetty. Spirit Lake Dakota Nation, youth representative; CBS News correspondent Hattie Kauffman, Nez Perce; National Congress of American Indians President Jefferson Keel, Chickasaw; Coloradas Mangas, Mescalero Apache, youth representative; Sam McCraken, Sioux / Assiniboine, general manager, Nike's N7 programs and chairman of N7 fund; US Senator Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska; former US Senator Gordon Smith, D - Oregon, president and CEO National Association of Broadcasters; Patty Taahongva, Hopi, award-winning journalist and freelance journalist; and W. Richard West, the former director, Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian.
With this all-star board of advisors and Erin Bailey, with all of her passion and staff, the Center is on its way to making a difference among Native youth.
posted July 30, 2011 6:30 am edt
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