1,200 youth and youth council advisors from 24 states convened in
Albuquerque, New Mexico for the youth-led 2009 National UNITY Conference
over the 4th of July weekend. The conference theme Diverse
We Are, United We Stand, Together We Rise was intertwined
in conference activities and sessions throughout the five-day convening
of young Native leaders.
what was described by many as possibly the most exciting opening
ever for a UNITY conference, youth from the Pueblo of Jemez shared
several dances amidst a fog which resembled clouds.
conference was called to order by National UNITY Council Co-Presidents
Juanita Toledo and Joshua Tso. Governor Robert Benevidas from Isleta
Pueblo offered a welcome and blessing. The Cherokee National Youth
Choir sang the national anthem. Following a roll call of delegations
by states, informative and challenging keynote messages were given
by Secretary Alvin Warren, of the New Mexico Office of Indian Affairs,
and LaDonna Harris, founder of Americans for Indian Opportunity,
of 25 individuals were organized to provide opportunities for youth
to meet youth from the other diverse tribes, villages, and communities.
addition to youth council advisors and chaperones being involved
with their youth delegations, they participated in a track designed
to help them become more effect supportors to their youth.
promote knowledge of Native American history and current events,
the UNITY Challenge pitted competition among clans. The activity
was hosted by Harlan McKosato and Antonia Gonzales, representing
Native America Calling.
morning promoted health. In conjunction with Celebrate Native Health
projects, the Alliance for a Healthier Generation coordinated a
series of activities promoting active living and healthy eating.
That afternoon, more than 70 teams competed in the 3 on 3 basketball
tournament at the University of New Mexicos Johnson Center.
always popular Cultural Exchange featured youth delegations sharing
a taste of their respective cultures through music and dance.
morning began with a memorial walk in which conference participants
honored family members and friends who had passed from this life.
The general session opened with a video of The Knotted Cord, a documentary
describing the historical stuggles of the nineteen Pueblos located
in New Mexico. Regis Pecos, a strong advocate of youth leadership
and currently the chief of staff for NM House Speaker Ben Lujan,
offered an inspiring message and urged the youth to keep their cultures
Steven Sroka challenged the youth to take action upon the #1 issue
they have identified Alcohol, Drug, and Substance Abuse.
Sroka emphasized the power of one.
afternoon, a variety of workshop offerings ranged from personal
empowerment to Defining Indianism to The Wisdom of Our Ancestors
to How To Be Happy in Any Family to college preparation to How to
Have an Effective Youth Council.
year old guitar sensation Levi Platero opened the very entertaining
Talent Show Sunday evening in the Kiva Auditorium. According to
UNITY staff member Russ Coker, the youth never cease to amaze
me with their many talents.
highlight of the Monday morning general session was the annual business
meeting of the National UNITY Council, the governing body of representatives
of UNITY-affiliated youth councils and individual youth who are
not members of youth councils. A draft resolution addressing Alcohol,
Drug, and Substance Abuse was introduced and discussed by the young
leaders. In addition, ballots were cast for the ten positions on
the National UNITY Council Election Committee.
lunch, youth watched a video about Flintco, the largest American
Indian-owned company. Robin Flint Ballenger, Flintcos board
chair, and Vernelle Chase, Tribal Liaison, made a presentation of
the improper and proper ways to interview
for a position. Several youth volunteered to participate in interviews.
Santa Fe Indian Schools Spoken Word Team provided an insight
into poetry and self expression.
the youth participated in the Education and Career Fair. Attendees
interacted with representatives of colleges, universities, and governmental
agencies. NBC conducted an open casting call. Kiowa Gordon, a member
of the Wolfpack in the upcoming New Moon movie, attracted a great
deal of attention in signing autographs and posing for photos. Youth
also had the opportunity to join artists in creating a mural.
celebration banquet honored youth council advisors for their ongoing
were offered by the Black Eagle and UNITY drums. The attendees learned
of Caleb Wilsons special piano talents. UNITYs trustees
recognized and thanked the sponsors of the National UNITY Conference:
San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, Gila River Indian Community,
Cherokee Nation, Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation, Soboba Band of Luiseno
Indians, Chickasaw Nation, Yavapai-Prescott Indian Tribe, and Flintco.
Jasmine Yepa and Joshua Tso were announced as the winners of the
Golda Cook Memorial Scholarship.
a very entertaining comedy performance by James & Ernie, the
outgoing members of the National UNITY Council Executive Committee
were recognized. The newly-elected Executive Committee members were
introduced and inducted.
Fuentes, J'Shon Lee, Candace Parker, CJ Thompson, Jered Sullivan,
Erin Beaver, Blayne Roundtree, Caitlin Baker, Leslie Locklear, Josh
last evening concluded with a dance.
the final general session, Joe Garcia, President of the National
Congress of American Indians and Chairman of the All Indian Pueblo
Council, shared his personal words of encouragement and challenged
the youth to make commitments in helping build stronger individuals,
families, and communities. Everyone moved outside to where Warren
Skye extinguished the UNITY Fire. (Editors note: Skye brought
the fire to the UNITY Conference in 1995 and has been doing so ever
since. The fire burns throughout the conference and is tended 24/7
by youth delegations.)
Killer, a board member of the National Indian Education Association,
joined UNITY leaders with a friendship circle which officially adjourned
the 2009 National UNITY Conference.