Bioneers Indigenous Forum – an opportunity for indigenous youth

by Cara Romero – Program Director, Indigenous Knowledge

What is Bioneers Indigenous forum?

The Indigenous Forum is a sovereign space dedicated to indigenous programming at the annual Bioneers Conference in San Rafael, California. Native leaders are invited to the Indigenous Forum to offer the world uniquely valuable indigenous perspectives promoting biocultural diversity conservation, the protection of Native lands, indigenous human rights and the leadership of indigenous peoples. It is designed to include in-depth discussions on the most pressing issues facing indigenous communities locally and globally, and includes exchanges concerning policy, reform and best practices in native arts, environmental issues, and cultural preservation by leaders from diverse Native backgrounds.

 Why is Bioneers indigenous forum unique?

The Indigenous Forum (by design) promotes indigenous leaders from diverse backgrounds and campaigns by creating a cultural bridge and public education outlet. These exchanges among tribal elders and distinguished tribal speakers bring critical awareness to First Peoples' issues while giving depth and acknowledgement to the tribes that make up California and indigenous communities from around the globe. The Forum offers a Native-led sanctuary for networking and self representation of indigenous peoples amidst a multi-cultural and multi-generational audience. The educational outreach between cultures is Native advised and honors the intellectual property and cultural privacy of Native Peoples while creating an invitational format to bridge indigenous knowledge and First People's leaders and global allies.

What does the Indigenous forum offer youth?

This year, we’ve raised enough funds to transport and give all-inclusive registration passes to over 50 Native youth mainly from California. We would like to generously thank our partners in funding, The San Manuel Band of Mission Indians and Southern California Edison.

We are trying to foster new leaders by creating opportunities for Native Youth to participate in, network at, and be empowered by attending the annual Bioneers Conference. We work with inner city tribal organizations and the school district's Indian Ed. Dept. to bring Native youth grades 6-12 (and beyond) to the conference that would otherwise not be able to attend. We also work with university Native Studies programs and tribal colleges and universities.

The Bioneers Conference and Indigenous Forum is a unique and inspirational educational opportunity for indigenous youth. It is my philosophy that by pairing indigenous youth with cultural mentors, they will be inspired to stay in school and become cultural, environmental and social justice leaders in Indian Country. I echo Gloria Steinem on women’s leadership–, "if you can't see it, you can't be it”. The Indigenous Forum is a place where our youth can "see", meet and network with powerful and engaging Native leaders. This year, we’ve got three different workshops and panels geared for the youth:

  • Sunday, October 20th 1:30-2:30 p.m. (bring your lunch and listen…)Indigenous Forum. Technology to Transform: Building a Youth Driven Climate Justice Movement: Antwi Akom, Ph.D. is an Associate Professor of Environmental Sociology, Public Health, and STEM Education at San Francisco State University and is CoFounder and Executive Director of the Institute for Sustainable Economic, Educational, and Environmental Design (I-SEEED)discusses what the modern world can learn from the indigenous world to combat climate change through the use of technology. The emergence of new technologies is changing society, the way we live, the way we work, the way we play, the way we communicate and do business—and the way we learn. Professor Akom discusses his work building a youth-driven climate justice movement and applying youth-driven technological innovations at the grassroots level as a way to overcoming some of the world’s most pressing social problems. He specifically works to integrate technology in a way that will deepen cohesion between diverse environmental, educational, and workforce development groups by equipping leaders with proven tools for cultivating community, healing divisions and developing joint movement building strategies.  Overall Professor Akom strives to build an ecosystem of “solutionists”.  He believes that through innovative economic, educational, environmental design, and cutting edge technology, we can create just and sustainable communities for all.


  • Saturday, October 19th 4:30pm-6:00pm. Indigenous Forum. Guardians of the Water: Native Youth Speak Out on Arts, Media, and Cultural Health. With: Nicola Wagenberg (Colombian), Vice-President and Youth Director for the Guardians of the Waters Youth program of The Cultural Conservancy (TCC); Valarie Ordoñez Perez (Salvadorian/Mexican), artist, activist, and Youth Coordinator for the Guardians of the Waters Youth program at TCC; Mateo Hinojosa (Bolivian-American), documentary filmmaker and educator, media director and teacher at TCC. Through a Cultural Conservancy Summer Internship funded by the Native Arts and Cultures Foundation and others, a group of indigenous youth has made canoe paddles and a tule boat, learned about local water systems, and engaged in other creative activities and dialogue around health, identity, and canoe traditions. Native youth will discuss their experiences and see the media they created.


  • Sunday, October 20th 4:30-6:00 p.m. Indigenous Forum. Youth and Indigenous Leader Talking Circle. Hosted by Cara Romero (Chemehuevi), Director of Bioneers Indigeneity Program.

California Indian educators have expressed that it is very important for indigenous youth (especially K-12) to be able to attend the Indigenous Forum because it is rare that they are able to see leaders in the world that they can closely identify with. Together we are creating exposure to educational experiences that are native focused and hope they may help to keep native youth engaged and inspired in continuing their education.