RezRIDERS Inc. is a 501 (c)(3) tax-exempt, charitable organization, based out of the Pueblo of Jemez in the state of New Mexico. It was founded as a program aimed at reducing the multitude of risk factors American Indian/Native American/Alaska Native, aka tribal youth and young adults face in their lives by embracing risks from a strength-based perspective. By experiencing multiple days of challenging extreme sports activity clusters, RezRIDERS (Reducing Risk through Interpersonal Development, Empowerment, Resiliency & Self Determination) works by shifting the focus from daily risky environments towards intense challenge through snowboarding, white-water rafting, stand-up paddle boarding, ropes courses and rock climbing. Culturally connected mentors participate alongside youth during all activities and while extreme sport industry professionals provide maximum safety oversight. Graduation from the 1-yr program requires youth, through dialogue and collective action; identify, design and implement a service project to addresses community issues.
The 104-page curriculum is directly linked to the sacred cycle of water in its various forms during the fall, winter, spring and summer seasons. Along with inclement weather conditions in natural settings, examples of water forms are frozen snow, flowing river water and cooling rain. As participants experience the 1-year program cycle they are asked to develop ideas and action that serve’s their community. These ideas evolve with program participation, culminating with commitment to action that is guided by mentors. The community service project is an action that harvests the experience of youth and participants sowing seeds of knowledge for the future.
Each Extreme Sport activity involves culturally connected mentors who facilitate discussions about individual and community core values, hope and optimism for the future, examples of self-determination and self-esteem, and involves decision-making that promotes a positive life trajectory. Evidence-based findings has shown this program decreases depression symptoms and increases coping mechanisms known to be important for improving intrapersonal social and community connections, and improve interpersonal skills through leadership and self-esteem all of which fosters important self-regulation for long term outcomes.
All activities within RezRIDERS occur under the leadership of mentors who partner with extreme sport professionals for maximum safety. By participating alongside tribal youth, community mentors also uncover their own inherent strengths, while working to develop tribal specific versions of their own program. The element of challenge is a new version of the old ways that many tribes are familiar with; it is the idea that we Indians must challenge ourselves in natural environments – to learn individually and collectively. From these positive experience we directly return benefit back to our communities by addressing community challenges. RezRIDERS reminds Indian Country about the resilience and strength that is built into every Indian man, woman and child.
Greg B. Tafoya (Santa Clara Pueblo and Sauk & Fox) launched the rezriders.org website in 2001, and authored the curriculum in 2007 as a public health graduate student; where he based key theories on his experiences as a risky youth, a professional snowboard instructor and mentor, and research scientist. Through out life he observed that board-sports such as snowboarding, skateboarding and surfing require critical thinking, high level thought processes and quick decision-making that resonate with Indigenous people as well as risky youth. Through a research partnership lead by Janice Tosa (Pueblo of Jemez), a mixed-methods evaluation plan has been tested with proven effectiveness using a positive psychology perspective.
“Throughout the activities we’ve done, I have come to realize that every student has the ability to accomplish the things they want,” says Board Member Kaitlyn Yepa, “RezRIDERS has brought out the best out in the students, by challenging them to take part in activities beyond their comfort zones. I believe that RezRIDERS is helping them realize that there is a lot to experience out there and not to be afraid to take on a task, no matter how hard it may seem”
The past, present and future are connected by RezRIDERS.