RSIC education column: Empowering Native youth to be the G.O.A.T. |

RSIC education column: Empowering Native youth to be the G.O.A.T.

Justin Zuniga

Special to First Nation's Focus

RENO, Nev. — The Reno-Sparks Indian Colony’s fourth annual Native Youth Conference will be held June 12-13, and this year’s theme is particularly poignant: Empowerment.

As an employee for RSIC’s Education Department and an aspiring horticulturist, I would like to offer an analogy to give the sense of empowerment we would like to portray.

Real educators are gardeners, whose pupils are their seeds. Such teachers create environments conducive to all learning types and tend to those young minds with the utmost care that it takes to produce a luscious garden.

In this way, the most important quality for educators to emulate is patience because no two students grow at the same pace, nor do all students have the same potential.

The particular skill of the teacher is to recognize each student’s unique strengths. If we are able to maintain all of these qualities, then we can be confident that we are inevitably empowering our youth.

The education program at RSIC provides tutoring assistance to over 100 students weekly. All too often, I hear the common refrain, “I don’t know,” which I follow up with all the wait time in the world, only to be told “I can’t.”

At this point, I am unsure how I am going to get this learner to complete this exercise, but I always respond with, “I know you know this!” or “You got this, because you’re the G.O.A.T.!”

I cannot say how long it will take, likely 15-45 minutes of focused instruction. All I know for certain is, as long as that student is willing to sit there and work through it, even if we have to resort to YouTube tutorials to reteach the material, then it is merely a matter of time before they will start to catch on.

I use the same quip once we see it to completion, “See, that didn’t kill ya!” The point is, every time we show a student that they are capable of doing something where once they had previously said “I can’t,” empowerment has occurred.

Empowerment in the household means creating a “home-classroom” space. The creation of such a space would signal to the whole family that education is a priority.

The inverse is also true — any sorts of noise pollution within the house that could pull the student away from their studies must cease and desist. It can wait!

Empowerment means all parents know that they have a rightful place at their child’s school. All parents should be actively involved in the decision process for issues that pertain to their student, and they should take it further to the District’s Board of Trustees if need be. The empowered parents will get their voice heard! 

Empowered parents have the Infinite Campus app downloaded on their phone. All school districts should have a way for parents/guardians to be able to virtually monitor their student’s academic progress. The simplest, most effective, most empowering tool we have to maintain full accountability is to establish access to your student’s virtual grades.

Being held accountable is empowering!

Or, empowerment is walking away from a toxic relationship and spending quality time with loved ones.

Or, empowerment is finding the strength to address negativity in the world when presented with it: either standing up to the archetypal bully or befriending a someone you sense is struggling. 

Or, empowerment is sitting at the drum after growing up around powwows your whole life, but now you want to learn how to drum and train your voice to hit those real high notes!

The theme “empowerment,” in essence, has ample civil-awakening connotations that will provide much material for the fourth annual RSIC Native Youth Conference to be a huge success.

If you would like more information about the event, please email Vanessa Williams, RSTHC Prevention Outreach Coordinator, at —  together, we will support the education of the next generation.

Justin Zuniga works as an RSIC Education Advisor at the Hungry Valley Center in Sparks. Email him at with questions.