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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


November 30, 2002 - Issue 75


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Oglala Teen Named to National Commission

by Jodi Rave Lee
credits: art Many Ponies by Cecilia Henle
Many Ponies by Cecilia HenleSAN DIEGO - The National Congress of American Indians Youth Commission named a South Dakota teen as one of two leaders who will provide a voice for youth issues the next two years.

Russell Blacksmith of South Dakota's Pine Ridge Reservation and Shilo Smith of Arizona's Salt River Maricopa Indian Community were interviewed for their new jobs during the 59th annual National Congress of American Indians conference, which ended Friday in San Diego.

"As a youth leader, I feel I have a lot to offer," Blacksmith, a 19-year-old from Oglala, said. "I would like to make a difference in combating youth problems that are affecting not only my nation but all of Indian Country."

The commission provides young people an opportunity to enhance their leadership skills. It was created six years ago after youths asked to be a part of the national congress.

"Hopefully, with this position we can work with the youth so they can come up with something themselves. Who knows better than us, the youth?" the 18-year-old Smith said.

Unlike the national group, the youths didn't want a leadership hierarchy consisting of president and vice president. They wanted balanced leadership of males and females, youth commission coordinator Jeri Brunoe of Phoenix said.

A number of speakers addressed the youth commission, which wrapped up a five-day meeting Thursday.

"Whenever I get around this kind of leadership, I get intimidated," Ernie Stevens Jr. of the Oneida Nation and chairman of the National Indian Gaming Association said.

"You guys are cool. You're smooth. You're beautiful. You're tough. Above all, you're leaders. That's why I'm intimidated by you. You guys got it."

Litefoot, a rap artist and motivational speaker, offered many words of encouragement and ended his message with some advice:

"Pray. Pray. Pray..." Litefoot said as he stood inside a circle repeating the words to the 60 or so youths seated around him. He reminded them that they have the power of their ancestors with them. They should use that power when dealing with the social ills in their lives, he said.

Blacksmith, who lives in one of the poorest counties in the country, is all too aware of the social ills in his community: poverty, infant mortality, teen suicide, high-school dropouts. "These are things that I carry around in my heart," he said.

As a dropout who later earned a high school-equivalent diploma, Blacksmith credits the Youth Opportunity Movement, a national initiative that works out-of-school youths, for giving him direction.

And now, the new national youth leader has a message for others: Even though you drop out of school and have personal difficulties with your life, never give up.

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