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High school students responding to this year's writing contest should write an essay of no more than 1,200 words that addresses the following prompt:

2016 Prompt Native Youth Initiatives
What active role should Native youth take in advancing Native initiatives within your community, region, or state? The essay should use research from your tribal community (website, tribal documents or personal interviews) and should reflect on your own experiences within their community.

See contest rules below for complete details and submission requirements. If this is your first essay contest experience, please click here for some Writing Tips.

SOURCES OF INFORMATION: In preparation for writing, students should draw from their own personal knowledge and research information from a variety of sources. Primary and secondary source material could include: historical and reference material, interviews, images, symbols and artwork, personal experiences, oral testimonies, official documents, diaries, letters, autobiographies, newspapers, academic journals, films and television movies, and Internet sources such as http://www.nmai.si.edu/searchcollections/home.aspx.


The 2016 Young Native Writers Essay Contest is open to Native American high school students currently enrolled in grades 9-12 only. All students participating in the Young Native Writers Essay Contest should have a significant and current relationship with a Native American community (i.e., an American Indian tribe, an Alaska Native community or a Native Hawaiian community). 


The following prizes will be awarded to winning essayists:

Four (4) First-Place Winners will each receive an expense-paid trip to Washington, D.C., to visit the National Museum of the American Indian and other prominent sites as part of Scholar Week (July 24 - 28, 2016).

First-Place Winners will receive a special award for display at home or school. In addition, each First-Place Winner will receive a scholarship of $2,500 to be paid directly to the college or university of his or her choice.

Entry Deadline for the 2016 Young Native Writers Essay is Wednesday, April 30, 2016.


IT IS IMPORTANT TO READ ALL OF THE CONTEST RULES. Entries that do not adhere strictly to these rules and guidelines will not be judged.

SUBMISSION INSTRUCTIONS: All essays must be submitted by email in PDF format to nativewriters@hklaw.com. Essays sent by mail, fax, or any other method will be disqualified. You must include your full name, email address and contact telephone number in the email. Do not include your name anywhere on any page of your essay. The body of your essay may be NO MORE THAN 1,200 WORDS. The essay must be written in English. 

REFERENCES REQUIRED: Every essay must include a Bibliography, Work Cited, or Reference Page.

WORD COUNT: Essays should comprise no more than 1,200 words. When conducting your word count, DO NOT include words contained in your Bibliography, Works Cited, or Reference page.

LANGUAGE: Essays must be in English.

YOUR NAME: You must include your full name, email address and contact telephone number in the email. Do not include your name anywhere on any page of your essay

RESEARCH IS REQUIRED: While this is a creative writing project, research must be an integral element of the writing process and essays must contain a Bibliography, Works Cited or Reference Page, citing all materials used in the research and writing of the essay (parenthetical documentation must accompany research).

ESSAY FORMAT: The essay must be in prose format and may be a commentary or interpretation of primary and secondary source material such as: historical and reference materials; interviews; eyewitness accounts and oral histories; official documents and other primary sources; readings from diaries, letters, autobiographies, and works of poetry; video, or audiotapes, films, art, and Internet sources. The essay must not be a fictitious story or poem. The essay must be primarily directed toward examining the writing prompt.

JUDGING: Entries will be judged anonymously and will not be returned to students. Submissions that adhere to the guidelines will be judged with special attention to (1) evidence of relevant reading and thoughtful use of resource materials; (2) treatment of the assigned themes; (3) clear and effective language, mechanics and grammar; and (4) a coherent plan of organization.

AUTHOR OF ESSAY: Each essay must be the work of one student and may not be the collective work of more than one student. By submitting an essay, applicants are certifying that their essays are original, authored solely by them, and that in writing their essays, they did not plagiarize or otherwise infringe upon the rights of any third parties.

TEACHERS: It is not necessary for a student to have a sponsoring teacher in order to enter this essay contest. However, high school teachers of Native American students are encouraged to inspire their students to participate, and in doing so, can become eligible to accompany student winners on a Washington, D.C., award trip, with all expenses paid, with the opportunity to take part in teacher seminars.

CERTIFICATES OF HONOR: A Certificate of Honor will be e-mailed to all who submit essays.

NOTIFICATION OF WINNERS: Winners will be notified of contest results by the end of of May 2016 (updated). The four winners, and two selected certified high school teachers and Holland & Knight chaperones will embark on an all-expense-paid trip to Washington, D.C. for Scholar week (July 24  - 28, 2016.) In addition, each First-Place Winner will receive a scholarship of $2,500 to be paid directly to the college or university of their choice.

SCHOLARSHIPS: Scholarships will be paid to each student's post-secondary educational institution after the student has graduated from high school and upon Holland & Knight Charitable Foundation's receipt of a copy of the student's registration paperwork from said post-secondary educational institution.

POSTING ESSAYS: All essays submitted may be used or published in whole or in part by the Holland & Knight Charitable Foundation or by other parties with its written permission. The Holland & Knight Charitable Foundation, National Museum of the American Indian and National Indian Education Association reserve the right not to publish any essay it deems inappropriate for any reason.

WASHINGTON DC: The winners of the essay contest MUST agree to participate in the entire trip to Washington, D.C., in order to receive a scholarship. In the event that a winner is unable or unwilling to participate in the trip to Washington, D.C., in its entirety, no substitution prize will be awarded.

MOST UNLIKELY: The Holland & Knight Charitable Foundation reserves the right not to award a prize or any prizes when submissions do not meet contest standards or criteria.

For more information, e-mail questions to nativewriters@hklaw.com.



National Museum of the American Indian

National Indian Education Association

National Museum of the American Indian Collections Search

Center for Native American Youth at the Aspen Institute

Native American Sites

Native Web

Index of Native American Resources for the Internet

National Congress of American Indians


Questions? e-mail: nativewriters@hklaw.com 


Graphic Interpretation of the Sun Dance, late 19th c. Painted by Black Chicken (Yanktonai Dakota). Fort Peck Reservation, Montana. 2/3304. Courtesy of National Museum of the American Indian.


"I am pleased that the Holland & Knight Foundation is encouraging American Indian youth to share their perspectives on the traditional images treasured by Native communities for many generations. The personal reflections of our young people will allow all of us to look at these images through fresh eyes."

The Honorable Ben Nighthorse Campbell
U.S. Senator - Retired
Northern Cheyenne



Kiowa Camp, 1895. Fort Still, Oklahoma. P13141. Courtesy of National Museum of American Indian.



"I cannot thank you enough for awarding me the Young Native Writers Essay Scholarship, I hope to learn how to design economic policy, especially policy that could strengthen economic development in Native-American communitites."

Robert C. Boling (Comanche) - 2009 First-Place Winner currently studying at Harvard Univsrsity



Late Classic Serape, 1960's, Unknown Navajo Artist. Denver Art Museum Collection: Native Arts Acquisition Funds 1934.86. Used with permission.



"This honor will not only affect the chosen one, it will affect their family, their school, and thousands of future Indian students and teachers who will, for the first time, find pride in being Indian, in being Dine or Cherokee or Spokane, or Lakota."

Tim Tingle (Choctaw)
Author and Storyteller



National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C. Photo courtesy of National Museum of American Indian.