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Canku Ota
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(Many Paths)
An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America
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2009 National UNITY Conference Demonstrated Diversity And Unity
by United National Indian Tribal Youth, Inc. press release
credits: photos couresy of United National Indian Tribal Youth, Inc.

Nearly 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.

In 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.

The 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,

Clans of 25 individuals were organized to provide opportunities for youth to meet youth from the other diverse tribes, villages, and communities.

In 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.

To 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.

Saturday 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 Mexico’s Johnson Center.

The always popular Cultural Exchange featured youth delegations sharing a taste of their respective cultures through music and dance.

Sunday 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 strong.

Dr. 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.”

That 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.

Seventeen 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.”

The 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.

After lunch, youth watched a video about Flintco, the largest American Indian-owned company. Robin Flint Ballenger, Flintco’s 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.

The Santa Fe Indian School’s Spoken Word Team provided an insight into poetry and self expression.

Next, 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.

The celebration banquet honored youth council advisors for their ongoing commitment.

Songs were offered by the Black Eagle and UNITY drums. The attendees learned of Caleb Wilson’s special piano talents. UNITY’s 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.

Following 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.

Victor Fuentes, J'Shon Lee, Candace Parker, CJ Thompson, Jered Sullivan, Erin Beaver, Blayne Roundtree, Caitlin Baker, Leslie Locklear, Josh Locklear

The last evening concluded with a dance.

During 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. (Editor’s 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.)

Kevin 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.

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