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OJJDP Youth Voices: UNITY Peer Guide Audriana Mitchell

Written by Christine Tansey, Writer/Editor – Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention

A Navajo member of the Colorado River Indian Tribes, Audriana—known as Audri—is 1 of 12 peer guides selected last year to participate in the Tribal Youth Leadership Development Initiative, a collaboration between OJJDP and United National Indian Tribal Youth (UNITY). The peer guides have named the project the “Healing Indigenous Lives Initiative.” Audri and the diverse group of youth leaders and mentors who were selected as peer guides are working together to increase youth engagement, coordination, and action related to public safety issues, with a focus on juvenile justice and delinquency prevention in Indian country.

“Youth in Indian country face many problems—gang violence, alcohol and drug abuse,” Audri said. “As a peer guide, I want to offer not only my understanding, but also information about the tools and resources that are available to help Native youth.”

Over the past year, Audri and her fellow peer guides helped develop a curriculum that UNITY will use in regional learning events across the country. The events will emphasize leadership skills, community service, healthy lifestyles, and cultural preservation. “It was important that the peer guides contributed to the curriculum,” Audri said. “Youth know best how to work with Native youth.” On June 25, 2020, Audri represented the peer guides at OJJDP’s Tribal Consultation webinar. The consultation sought feedback from tribal leaders and representatives on how to increase tribes’ access to juvenile justice funding and improve coordination with tribes.

Audri has spent years serving and advocating for tribal youth in local and national organizations, including UNITY, Big Brothers Big Sisters, and the Mesa Strength Youth Council. She currently leads the Intertribal Student Organization at Arizona’s Mesa Community College, where she is studying communications and organizational management. She was crowned Miss Colorado River Indian Tribes in 2018 and Miss Indian Arizona in 2019. “In these two roles, I’ve visited reservations throughout Arizona to talk with youth about their challenges and offer resources and encouragement,” Audri said.

Audri was raised in Mesa by her mother and grandparents. Her grandmother, whom she calls “the traditional one in the family,” tried to teach Navajo customs and culture when Audri was a child and young teenager. “But, living in an urban area, I did not learn,” Audri said. However, in the past several years, Audri has reconnected with her tribal culture by learning songs in the Navajo language. She performs Navajo songs regularly at tribal gatherings and recently sang at the opening and closing of OJJDP’s virtual tribal consultation.

“Culture is an important preventive tool,” said Audri. “I believe a way that we can fight through the difficult things going on in our communities is to get back to our traditional knowledge—going to ceremonies, learning the Native language, learning traditional songs—to keep us in a healthy mindset and healthy space. It’s important to have youth see that it’s not just them, they have a whole tribal community, they have family and friends who are behind them and want to see them succeed.”