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Native Girls grow self-esteem

A sort of gifted program for smart, quiet American Indian girls in Duluth is bolstering leadership skills and self-esteem, working to head off domestic violence and presenting the girls with a broad range of skills.

A sort of gifted program for smart, quiet American Indian girls in Duluth is bolstering leadership skills and self-esteem, working to head off domestic violence and presenting the girls with a broad range of skills.

The Native Girls Traditional and Technological Alliance (NGTTA), which now includes seven girls of around middle school age, was started by Maggie Kazel a couple of years ago to address a need she saw in her own daughter.

The point was expressed in a letter sent out to parents this way: "There are First Nation daughters who are bright, capable, quiet and strong: They often fall through the cracks of our school systems and after-school programming. This does not mean they are failing in their grades or social development; It simply means their gifts and talents are not challenged."

Edye Howes, the group's new director, says leadership skills are of primary importance. "That's what I think native people need -- they need leadership," she said.

The girls have met with teachers -- all American Indian -- who have presented skills such as building birch-bark canoes, basic auto repair and quilting. On a steamy Wednesday, three of the girls met with Michael Lyons, a local comic strip artist enrolled with the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, who is helping them create their own serial cartoon for New Moon Magazine in Duluth.

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Lyons looked on, offering advice while Savannah Caage Howes did the inking, Lani Sky Kazel drew the comic's main character (a young Indian girl) and Aurelia Denasha drew the girl's horse.

Lyons said young students respond well to art classes, and he said working the project was a good time. "It's fun," he said. "It's really rewarding."

In the long-term, one skillset could take the group beyond Duluth. The NGTTA hopes to develop its own Web site and help spread the use of computers to reservations. In some cases, the first step in that process will be actually getting electricity to the sites without the power grid, and so teachers will explain how to evaluate the use of solar and wind power. During this outreach, the NGTTA girls will meet with girls in these other places, hoping they will form similar groups of their own.

{IMG2}The women running the group also hope to teach awareness of relationships so that the girls will not fall into patterns of abuse. Howes said some young women are not properly educated on what a healthy relationship is.

The goal is simple; "As they get older ... they can feel a little more self-respect for themselves," she said.

Kazel said the girls are developing a comic book outlining an actual curricula for dating.

"It's kind of like stop, drop and roll -- there's rules," she said.

The girls are really blossoming under the program, Howes and Kazel said. Some are showing greater self-esteem in acting classes, and many seem to have taken to the group.

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"It surprises me how much ... when they're together, they're just so comfortable," Howes said. "They can be who they are. ... It's really great to see them come out of their shell."

"I wish I had something like this when I was younger," she added.

The NGTTA is emphasizing slow growth and meets about once a month. For more information, contact Howes at 727-0871.

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