Imagine IMAGEN — an Indigenous Adolescent Girls’ Empowerment Network.
That’s what Kala Roberts did when she heard Kelly Hallman speak at a Women Are Sacred conference. As Kelly spoke, Kala imagined how such a program might empower young women in our Mille Lacs Band communities.
Kelly Hallman, Ph.D., is a health policy researcher who fo- cuses on girls’ empowerment, Indigenous empowerment, vi- olence prevention, HIV prevention, adolescent sexual health, and equity in access to opportunities and services.
She is an enrolled citizen of the Cherokee Nation in Oklaho- ma and received her Ph.D. in economics from Michigan State University.
The IMAGEN program started in 2017 and has expanded to the Twin Cities, South Dakota, and Oklahoma.
A year after the conference, IMAGEN put out a Request for Proposals (RFP), and Kala, who is the Direct Services Coordi- nator with the Family Violence Prevention Program, submitted a successful application with funding that will last until No- vember.
Meetings had begun in partnership with Onamia Commu- nity Education when COVID-19 hit. Kala immediately began considering ways to keep the ball rolling with the help of tech- nology.
She held her first virtual information meeting last month and plans a second for Wednesday, June 10, from 4 to 5 p.m.
“We’re looking for girls age 12 to 16 who are interested in participating and girls 16 to 21 would are interested in being youth mentors and helping run the program in each district,“ said Kala. “We’re also looking for Elders interested in mentor- ing the empowerment group.“
Kala hopes to start groups in Districts I, II, IIa, and III. Once those are up and running, a group may be formed for Twin Cit- ies Band members. Each district’s program will be unique, with members setting the agenda and choosing the focus within the broad guidelines of the IMAGEN program.
The objective of the program is to provide a positive, safe environment that provides support and community to young girls. The goal is to help the participants discover who they are as individuals, learn new skills, and contribute to a group.
“In providing a space to learn cultural values, valuable life skills, and building relationships, we will be reducing the risk factors faced by the participants through caring and connection,“ said Kala. “We will be building self-esteem and skills to help young girls become strong women.“
Because this program will be run by a youth programming team composed of Elders and others, a benefit of the program- ming would be the building of a supportive “sister network“ that can bring their newfound skills to others, resulting in a caring environment where girls can grow and support each other to bring power and possibilities to their community.
When COVID-19 hit, IMAGEN was planning a training in Rapid City for all of the grant recipients. Instead, the groups that have been funded have been meeting virtually every two weeks since first of March.
“We’ve been feeding off of each other’s ideas on how to make it work when we can’t meet in person,“ Kala said.
She decided a virtual informational meeting was a way to bring interested girls and Elders from all districts together at the same time.
She also plans to work with school districts in the hope that older girls can earn credit to work on the program.
The IMAGEN program encourages groups to meet weekly. Kala envisions meetings on various topics of interest, with cul- tural activities and life skills training.
To learn more about IMAGEN, visit https://www.popcoun- cil.org/research/the-indigenous-adolescent-girls-empower- ment-network-imagen. With questions about the Mille Lacs Band’s IMAGEN efforts, email Kala at Kala.Roberts@hhs.mil- lelacsband-nsn.gov or call 320-336-0214 or Cell 320-360-2691.
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.
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.
For more information, email Kala.Roberts@hhs. millelacsband-nsn.gov or call 320-336-0214 or Cell 320-360-2691.