The Indigenous Adolescent Girls’ Empowerment Network (IMAGEN)

The Indigenous Adolescent Girls’ Empowerment Network (IMAGEN) seeks to equip Native-serving organizations with tools to reach and empower adolescent Native American girls through programs that are intentionally designed for girls instead of merely for young people more broadly.

The Issue

Adolescent Native American girls are distinct from every other segment of young people in the United States, from the assets that their ancestors have passed down to them, to the unique challenges that they face. Native women and girls carry immense responsibilities in tribal communities, yet school alone cannot prepare adolescent girls for the obstacles many will soon face as they transition to womanhood. Native young people rank lowest in the U.S. high school graduation. One in eight American Indian and Alaska Native high schoolers report experiencing sexual coercion, and one in three Native American women reports having been sexually assaulted in her lifetime. Native girls have the highest rate of teen births nationwide, and growing evidence suggests that Native girls face high risks of trafficking.

Many current programmatic initiatives serving Native young people often regard Native “youths” as a monolithic group. Most programs do not differentiate the multiple human development stages between ages 10-24 years, and rarely distinguish the needs of girls versus boys. A gap remains in understanding and addressing the specific needs and experiences of adolescent Native American girls. Therefore, capacity needs to be enhanced to plan, design, and undertake local culturally-relevant programs designed specifically for indigenous adolescent girls.

The Progress

The Indigenous Adolescent Girls’ Empowerment Network (IMAGEN) was conceived as a means to bring together Native American-serving organizations that have the willingness and ability to adopt, document, and share evidence from programs that build on Native girls’ innate talents, while addressing the multiple challenges they face.

IMAGEN aims to plan, design, and undertake Native-led adolescent girl programming by adapting, testing, and utilizing existing community assessment and intentional design tools to support this underserved group.

The first step towards building this network occurred during IMAGEN’s workshops in 2017, at the GIRL Center headquarters in New York City and within the Rosebud communities South Dakota, in which seven organizations covering different parts of Indian Country participated. Tools were shared that allow program staff to simply and accurately assess the realities of adolescent girls in their communities and ways to tailor programs accordingly.

IMAGEN is now providing intensive training to the White Buffalo Calf Women’s Society through tribal visits and extensive remote support. This partnership aims to support the fostering of adolescent Native girl-centered programming by:

  • Laying the foundations of intentional design
  • Supporting key decision-making processes, including determining which segments of girls to work with, developing program content, establishing safe spaces, and finding and training mentors

IMAGEN is also supporting assessment of the approach on-the-ground through supporting outcome measurement, the creation of tailored monitoring instruments, baseline assessments, and a six-month exposure assessment.

The Impact

By building a network and conducting a pilot project within a tribal community to more specifically address the needs of and empower Native adolescent girls, the engagement and accomplishments of IMAGEN will serve as a demonstration model for other Native American organizations to replicate. IMAGEN also aims to steer donor organizations and the U.S. government toward increased investment, specifically in Native American girls’ skills and assets before they experience school dropout, violence, trafficking, and/or sizable family care responsibilities.

Principal Investigator

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