Native girls carry immense responsibilities and face unique challenges, even within their own communities. Over hundreds of years, cultural dislocation—through violent colonial policies and patriarchal norms—eroded many of the indigenous matriarchal social, political, and economic structures that empowered Native women and girls.
While Native girls face disproportionate health, educational, social, and economic challenges, they also are excluded from tribal resources. In Indigenous communities, evidence shows young women are the poorest subgroup and less than 10 percent of programming for Native youth focuses exclusively on the needs of girls.
In 2017, Dr. Kelly Hallman launched IMAGEN to take steps to fight this inequality and strengthen the protection, safety, and resilience of Native girls. IMAGEN equips Native American communities to renew and sustain female-led platforms to connect excluded girls to supportive adults, services, and opportunities. The goal is to restore Indigenous Girl Societies that reclaim neighborhood spaces and build local female Native-led mentorship programs.
An enrolled tribal member of the Cherokee Nation, Hallman understands deeply the challenges Native girls face in adolescence—challenges that have compounded during the covid pandemic. For more than two decades at the Council, Hallman developed data-driven approaches to build adolescent girls’ assets in low- and middle-income countries. With support and investment from the Council, she set out to apply these approaches to work in Native communities through what became IMAGEN.
“IMAGEN uses evidence-based tools that ensure girls thrive. It also builds on long-standing Native cultural traditions, providing platforms for intergenerational transmission of matrilineal knowledge,” says Hallman. “Girl Societies recognize the unique responsibilities held by and challenges facing Native girls, and offer culturally grounded, Indigenous-led systems of support.”
From the initial group of Native partner organizations that came together to conceive of the project to implementation partners working in tribal communities, the IMAGEN model has continued to spread in the context of the pandemic and is strengthened by knowledge shared among tribal communities that form the network. To date, Girl Societies have been created in 45 Native communities across the United States.
Five years after its founding and with the full support of the Population Council, IMAGEN is taking a big step forward. Hallman has created a new Native American organization—the Indigenous Justice Circle (IJC)—to expand IMAGEN and address Indigenous gender, race, and climate justice issues through data initiatives, technical assistance, and strategic collaborations.
IJC is independent from the Population Council. Hallman leads IJC and Lisa Polen, IMAGEN’s project manager and a key contributor to the Council’s adolescent portfolio, joins her. Hallman continues her roles as an affiliate of the Council’s GIRL Center and long-serving member of the Institutional Review Board (IRB).
“It has been an honor for the Population Council to be able to provide catalytic support and a nurturing environment for the first five years of IMAGEN—which has expanded our commitment to generating and investing in ideas and evidence that tackle the urgent needs of underserved peoples,” says Julia Bunting, president of the Population Council. “The Council has a long history creating and strengthening institutions, and we recognize the critical importance of initiatives that are locally-led for identifying and addressing challenges for greater equity. We are proud to have fostered IMAGEN, excited that it will amplify its important work as the Indigenous Justice Circle, and have no doubt that under Kelly’s continuing leadership it will go from strength to strength.”
Learn more about the Indigenous Justice Circle: www.indigenousjc.org