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Supporting Culturally Sensitive Transition Planning for American Indian Youth

By Vern Zacher, Jean Ness, and Dennis Olson

The values expressed in strategies used by transition services and supports for young people with disabilities may at times be in conflict with the values of families from a number of cultural communities. This article presents one example of how families might experience and navigate those services and supports.

The path from school life to adult life is not easy for anyone. For American Indian youth this transition can be compounded by many factors in their lives. Often public school was not a pleasant place for American Indian parents, while grandparents have memories of boarding schools. These institutions historically represent places where one’s culture was not allowed. These memories are still alive and well with parents and grandparents of many. Therefore, being involved in school activities does not bring memories of positive events.

Unless family members have been through the process of transition from high school to postsecondary life, they may not have necessary skills to work with the systems that support the transition process. American Indian youth in transition need an adult who has time, who they trust, who knows how to advocate on behalf of the student, and who knows how to work with agencies. Often students need “hand holding” to actually lead them through the college admissions and financial aid process, or employment-seeking process. It is essential that the goal is the youth’s and not the support givers’. If the youth does not develop the ownership of those goals, there may be a total loss of interest and the student drops out of school or work.

Here are some key points for parents and family members to consider in supporting their youth in transition:

Here are some key points to consider when transition planning for life after high school:

Vern Zacher (Ojibwe) is Director of Indian Education in Cloquet Public Schools, Cloquet, Minnesota. He may be reached at 218/879-1457 or at Jean E. Ness is a Project Director and Dennis Olson (Ojibwe) is a Project Coordinator in the area of transition and American Indian youth at the Institute on Community Integration, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis. They may be reached at 612/625-5322 or at


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Retrieved from the Web site of the Institute on Community Integration, University of Minnesota ( Citation: Gaylord, V., Agosta, J., Barclay, J., Melda, K. & Stenhjem, P. (Eds.). (2006). Impact: Feature Issue on Parenting Teens and Young Adults with Disabilities 19(2). [Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, Institute on Community Integration.]

The PDF version of this Impact, with photos and graphics, is also online at

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