United National Tribal Youth, Inc. Receives $850K Grant from Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention

Source: Red Lake Nation News

Chandler, Arizona–United National Indian Tribal Youth, Inc. (UNITY) has entered into a four-year cooperative agreement with the US Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) to plan and implement the National Intertribal Youth Leadership Development Initiative. The Initiative’s goal is to offer opportunities for Native American youth to, “Reduce risk factors and enhance protective factors in youth, schools, communities, and families.” To accomplish this goal, the Initiative will conduct a series of national and regional Intertribal Youth Leadership Development gatherings and a range of related youth leadership development opportunities for Native American and Alaska Native youth.

UNITY, Inc. is a national network organization promoting personal development, citizenship, and leadership among Native youth between the ages of 14 – 24. UNITY affiliated youth councils that make up the National UNITY Council will have an opportunity to put the training their youth members receive through the Initiative to good use within their communities as the youth themselves learn by doing. The training will enable the youth to plan, organize, and carry out service projects within their respective communities. These youth led projects will benefit tribal communities while providing valuable real world leadership experiences that will better prepare the involved youth to assume and succeed in their future leadership roles. UNITY and a team of technical assistance providers will offer guidance and support to engaged youth and their adult advisors throughout the project to help ensure the successful completion of the service projects.

“The Initiative provides welcome resources that will help make it possible for UNITY to continue the important work that it has performed for the past 37 years. The UNITY staff, members of the Council of Trustees, and the youth leaders of the National UNITY Council are looking forward to working with the OJJDP staff and its team of consultants and trainers to provide our Native American youth with the added opportunities for personal development the Initiative makes possible. I personally encourage Native youth and youth-serving programs throughout Native America to take part in this important Initiative,” said Mary Kim Titla, UNITY Executive Director.

UNITY staff, OJJDP staff, trainers and technical assistance providers will collaboratively develop and adopt specific project objectives along with a plan for accomplishing the Initiative’s overall goals. The schedule for all project activities and events is expected to be completed and announced on the UNITY website (www.unityinc.org) as well as through other media outlets shortly after the start of the New Year.

UNITY’s mission is to foster the spiritual, mental, physical and social development of American Indian and Alaska Native Youth and to help build a strong, unified, and self-reliant Native America through greater youth involvement. UNITY’s network currently includes 132 affiliated youth councils in 35 states. Youth Councils are sponsored by Tribes, Alaska Native villages, high schools, colleges, urban centers, and others. To learn more about UNITY, visit the website at http://www.unityinc.org.

Thornton Media Launches Kickstarter Campaign for 3-D Video Game To Teach New Languages Including Cherokee

By Ralph Richardson, Indian Country Today Media Network

In our highly competitive global economy, learning a new language is back in vogue, whether it’s Spanish, Mandarin, Arabic—or Cherokee. There are a plethora of programs, applications and schools to help people hone their communication abilities. Now comes a new strategy: Don Thornton, founder and president of Thornton Media, Inc. and a member of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, has developed Talking Games, the first 3-D video game that teaches language.

“The problem is that too many language courses are sitting on shelves gathering dust,” Thornton says. “The reason is boredom. You simply can’t get the player to continue using the game for hundreds of hours because they are bored. We intend to make language learning more fun.”

Don Thornton
Don Thornton


Thornton has utilized new technology to help preserve the language of his ancestors. “Our video game model is a true paradigm shift in the language software industry,” he claims. “It’s a disruptive technology advance that will change the way all languages are learned.”

Thornton says his grandmother, Lucinda Robbins, taught Cherokee in her home-town of Tahlequah, Oklahoma for 40 years. “While visiting her I purchased a Cherokee-English dictionary near her home, which I showed to her for her opinion,” he recalls. “She flipped through it and said she knew the professor who wrote it and commented that he used to ‘come over and ask me how to say words when I was sitting on my porch.’”

Eventually the professor didn’t even bother to sit on Robbins’ porch and “would just drop off lists of words and she would fill them out for him. He did this for three years. I flipped through the dictionary thinking at least he must have thanked her profusely for her help. But her name didn’t appear anywhere in the book. She told me about many similar projects that she had worked on. She translated books for people into Cherokee, and had a request to narrate the entire New Testament—a two-year project. At no time did she ever get paid for these major projects or even receive a copy of the work. It got me thinking how Indians don’t have control over their own cultural property and must rely on others.”

Determined to bring Cherokee back to the Cherokee, Thornton says he “started the company by adapting the world’s first ‘smart toy’ to teach an indigenous language.” He claims that development of Talking Games has created many “endangered language firsts,” including the first handheld translator, first two-way translator, first Nintendo DS language-learning apps, first language learning apps in the iTunes Store, and first language learning video game for an endangered language.

“All of the R&D for these projects was paid for out-of-pocket,” Thornton states proudly. “No grants. We have created custom language tools for more than 170 tribes and First Nations.”

All of this came from his desire to honor his grandmother, who, he says, “died in December 2012 at the age of 92. She was the best Cherokee speaker in our family.”


Earlier this month, Thornton was a speaker on the panel “Mobile Devices and Indian Country” at the National Reservation Economic Summit 2013 Conference with Jamie Richardson, senior systems engineer for Apple Inc. “The conference brings together American Indian businesses and corporations,” Thornton says. “I was the only panelist invited to speak with Apple about mobile apps.”

Despite his successes, Thornton still needs the support of Indian country to continue his work. His Kickstarter campaign launched on March 11, and his goal is to produce his game in both Cherokee and Spanish. Thornton hopes the inclusion of Spanish, which he says is the most requested second language in the country, will subsidize the inclusion of Cherokee. “If we are successful in launching this project it will benefit the revitalization of all endangered languages,” he says.

TRANS TK. e future for Talking Games looks bright, because the game Thornton has developed is engaging and fun. Users fight zombies, wrestle Bigfoot, and escape from aliens—all while learning a language. “The virtual world we create for Talking Games is not meant to simply recreate a town or community, but to create a ‘suspension of disbelief,’” Thornton says. “We want the player to sort of’ forget they are playing a game. This is the reason for the amazing addictive power of immersive video games. When you read a great book or see a great movie, you become lost in it, and part of your brain actually forgets you are playing a game. We use 3D characters that you interact with in our virtual world.”

Talking Games video still of Cecil and Cindy meeting for the first time (Thornton Media)
Talking Games video still of Cecil and Cindy meeting for the first time (Thornton Media)


No special glasses or equipment are required to play Talking Games. It is a role-playing game, or RPG, with 3D characters that exist in 3 dimensions, like Grand Theft Auto. In Talking Games, the player controls the main character, Charlie Vann, gets a head injury in a car crash and forgets how to speak Cherokee. His family and friends must help him to regain his language. The obstacles he must overcome include zombies, Bigfoot, and aliens. “The problem with most ‘serious games,’ Thornton says, “is that the motivation to play the game is external. You are ordered to play the game by your superiors, for instance. There are no internal motivators to play, making the game fun to play.”

Talking Games also differs from other language learning programs in that users must speak to play the game. In addition, Talking Games provides what Thornton calls an “immersion environment.” Virtual characters can only respond to the language the user speaks. These aspects of the Talking Games system create a richer learning environment.

Thornton says he has commissioned third party studies on 25,000 military personnel learning Arabic that show that video games that teach languages are “more effective than traditional methods” of language learning. “When you attempt to learn a new language, one of the biggest fears is that you will speak incorrectly and will be laughed at,” he explains. “There is a moment where you look the other person in the eye to see if they understood you. Some people are not bothered by making mistakes in public, but most people feel very uncomfortable if they make a mistake. Talking Games provides a safe environment to practice basic conversation. If you make a mistake in front of a video game character, it’s really not that big of a deal.”

Cecil negotiates with Coyote (Thornton Media)
Cecil negotiates with Coyote (Thornton Media)


This innovator in the area of language learning says he launched Thornton Media in 1995 “to create custom language tools to help indigenous communities to revitalize their languages while retaining control over their own cultural property.” Now, Thornton says, his company is still the “only language tool company in the world that retains no ownership over the cultural property of our Native communities.”

With the introduction of Talking Games, Thornton says he has expanded his goals to promote accelerated learning of all languages—but the heart and soul of his company remains with the languages of original peoples, like his grandmother. “Part of our efforts and profits,” he says, “will always be devoted to the revitalization of endangered languages.”

Support Thornton Media’s Kickstarter campagin at http://kck.st/WhweWy.


Read more at http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2013/03/22/thornton-media-launches-kickstarter-campaign-3-d-video-game-teach-new-languages-including

Native-Owned Security Firm Makes List of 100 Top Small Businesses in America

PSC President & CEO Michele Justice (http://pscprotectsyou.com/aboutmichele.html)
PSC President & CEO Michele Justice (http://pscprotectsyou.com/aboutmichele.html)

Vote To Nominate Personnel Security Consultants, Inc. for the Community Excellence Award

Indian Country Today Media Network Staff

Out of several thousand applicants for the Blue Ribbon Small Business Award, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has bestowed the honor on Native American-owned security firm Personnel Security Consultants, Inc. (PSC) as one of 100 winners representing the best small businesses in America.

The award recognizes small firms with fewer than 250 employees and gross revenues of less than $20 million for its customer service, community involvement, staff training and motivation, a press release states. The award, sponsored by Sam’s Club, also recognizes business strategies and goals. PSC was the only Blue Ribbon winner in New Mexico and one of two Native American small businesses selected in the U.S.

“It’s exciting to know that a small business started in my home is being recognized alongside bigger businesses with dozens of employees,” PSC President & CEO Michele Justice (Navajo) said in the release. “It’s recognition for the hard work, determination and sacrifice. It’s assurance that we’re doing the right thing even through all the struggles. And it’s a big dream that we’ve really worked to make a reality.”

An investigative firm specializing in personnel security and employment suitability with a staff of 18, PSC serves more than 280 tribes and tribal programs, in addition the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Los Alamos National Laboratory, temp screening services and casinos.

The firm, created in 2004, focuses on personnel security training, adjudications and tailored employee background investigations. PSC continues to be the only authorized liaison between the BIA and the FBI to aid tribes in obtaining employee fingerprints for a FBI criminal history record search to meet the requirements of the 1990 Indian Child Protection and Violence Protection.

Blue Ribbon winners will be honored at America’s Small Business Summit 2013 on April 29 – May 1 in Washington, D.C. On Friday, February 15, the U.S. Chamber will announce seven award finalists. One of the seven will be named the DREAM BIG Small Business of the Year during the summit. The winner will be presented with a copy0,000 cash prize courtesy of the U.S. Chamber.

“The Blue Ribbon Award winners show that, even facing uncertainty and economic challenges, small businesses can grow and succeed,” U.S. Chamber president and CEO Thomas J. Donohue said in the press release. “They are America’s economic engine, driving growth and job creation all across this country.”

Blue Ribbon awardees are also eligible for the Community Excellence Award, an online contest that allows people to support their favorite Blue Ribbon winner and celebrate the business’ commitment to their community. The Community Excellence Award winner will receive a free, two-night hotel stay during the business summit. Deadline to vote is 5 p.m. EST February 22. To vote for PSC, go to https://dreambigaward.wufoo.com/forms/community-excellence-award-2013/.


Read more at http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2013/02/15/native-owned-security-firm-makes-list-100-top-small-businesses-america-147692