Courtesy photo
Learning to surf in the Kumeyaay territory of San Diego

Awesome Cultural Exchange Program Adventures For Native Youth – Sign Up Now!

Dina Gilio-Whitaker

Have you ever dreamed of basking on a sun-kissed tropical beach and playing in its warm, crystal-clear waters? Maybe you’ve always longed to live near the ocean and surf? What if you could experience all these things and more in tribal sanctuaries with indigenous communities?

As a parent, perhaps you’ve thought your child could benefit from learning about indigenous cultures in another state or another country. For 16 years, InterTribal Youth (ITY) has made these kinds of experiences available to Native youth between 13-18 years old. They also have programs for college-age students and adults.   

Since 2000, ITY’s newly renamed program Native Like Water, has worked to provide cultural exchange experiences centered on ocean-based indigenous cultures.

Emphasizing indigenous peoples’ sacred relationship to water, the program teaches indigenous knowledge and science based on a philosophy of wellness and healthy lifestyle choices, incorporating traditional storytelling, writing skills, western-based science into its curriculums, and sports. Other activities include surfing, paddling, martial arts, healthy food, and mind/body health integration.

Here we focus on three fantastic upcoming trips Native youth and adults can take advantage of in 2016:

Surfing the Waves in Panama

There is no sport more indigenous than surfing, thanks to our Native Hawaiian cousins and some of the best surfing in the world is in Central America. Through the upcoming Indigenous Science, Art & Culture Educational Exchange in Panama, June 20-26, 2016, youth can learn to surf and visit rainforests, the Panama Canal, the renowned Bio-Museum, and see both the Caribbean and Pacific Oceans that the country straddles.

They can also visit with the Indigenous Nations of Guna Yala, Embera and Nogbe peoples and learn about Panama’s diverse ecology. Following the Indigenous Science Tour is a 3-day volunteer opportunity at "Guardians" Rainforest & Food Forest Project on Cebaco Island, a 58-acre environmental permaculture and education eco-lodge.

Healthy Living in Costa Rica and Panama

Emphasizing a model of sustainable tourism that gives back to local and indigenous communities for both adults and youth, the REVIVE Tour, which travels to Puerto Viejas, Costa Rica and Bocas del Toro in Panama, caters to those who aspire to a healthy, diverse lifestyle.

The journey also includes interactions with the indigenous Bri Bri people, as well as including such activities as yoga, snorkeling, community service, cultural history tours, and much more.   The Panama tours are March 3-11, and June 28-July 5.

University Preparation and Beach Combing in Southern California

A 10-day Residential Enrichment San Diego Program in Southern California brings Native youth to the oceanfront campus of the University of California at San Diego, once an important Kumeyaay village site. Housed in campus dormitories, the program is designed to give participants a sense of university life.

Activities include a seminar in music, language, culture, and writing; a visit to Torrey Pines State Park Reserve for a Coastal Indigenous Science tour led by local Kumeyaay Native ethno-botanists; a trip to the world famous Scripps Institute of Oceanography and Birch Aquarium; a mock tribal council; and tours of a few of San Diego’s reservations and other universities. The visit includes plenty of beach and play time, including surf lessons, snorkeling, and paddling.

Eligibility for the program is for youth between 13-18, no minimum GPA,  and all educational backgrounds welcome. The program is open to 25 participants and fills fast so early registration is encouraged.

“This is a life-changing program. This is what we hear most from participants,” says the program director and founder Marc Chavez.

Culturally-relevant writing fosters creativity and personal expression

“We’re here to save lives. Universities aren’t helping indigenous youth like they should be or say they are. We’re giving them a positive university experience with a toolbox full of tools. Our motto is to indigenize education.”

ITY began in 2004 as the Young Native Scholars program based at the University of California at San Diego. A year later when deep state budget cuts severed financial support systems, YNS reorganized as a private nonprofit organization.     

Scholarships are available. Every participant automatically receives a 60% scholarship, leaving a 40% share of cost. If more funding is needed ITY works with youth and their families to help find additional sources. Participation is open to all regardless of enrollment status in a federally recognized tribe. For more information, go to Inter Tribal Youth’s website,

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