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American Indian youths need to learn about their tribal customs, philosophies and values if they want to succeed in a "mainstream" world, according to the director of the Division of Indian Affairs. They also need to pursue a post-high school education.

"You young people need to understand that you have a very strong heritage," Wil Numkena said. "That heritage of tribal background is essential for your life. That cultural foundation is how you will go down that path of life . . . that is what also established your concept of identity."Numkena was the keynote speaker at the Native American Youth Conference on Monday, a daylong gathering of American Indian students from Granite, Jordan and Salt Lake school districts held at East High School.

"Today Indian children are having difficulty because they do not know what their identity is," Numkena, a Hopi, said. "We hear of Indian youths getting into trouble because of alcohol. They are sitting on a fence; they do not know whether they are Indian or American. That causes you to wobble. Your concept of self-worth determines how you are going to go with your life."

American Indians are born with a tribal identity, he said. When elders ask him who he is, he identifies himself by his mother's clan, then his father's clan. He includes information on his godfather's and godmother's clans. They also have an individual identity.

"Indian people are born into a role and into a responsibility," Numkena said.

American Indian women will determine whether the cultural heritage survives in a complete and rich form. "Throughout U.S. history, the Indian people have suffered greatly at the encroachment of the European peoples. We survived because of our matriarchy. Our mothers and our sisters are the reason we survive today. You young ladies have the responsibility; be certain you understand that. When the U.S. military took our `chiefs,' there was always someone to replace them. It was the matriarchs' choice. They were not touching the power structure of the Native American."

Numkena warned the youths to expect change and prepare for it. Preparation means getting a firm cultural foundation and then pursuing education beyond high school.

"Change is something that happens on a daily basis. We are not the same as our ancestors 100 years ago . . . We can deal with change is we prepare ourselves. We each have our individual identity, our tribal identity and an identity as members of the United States of America."