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AISES conference attracts America’s next young leaders

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PORTLAND, Ore. – The enthusiasm level was over the top at the 31st annual American Indian Science and Engineering Society’s conference which drew 1,000 professionals and 500 students Oct. 29 – 31 at the Oregon Convention Center.

Present were many luminaries and noted professionals, but the students were the focus. “You are the cream of the crop, brilliant, smart, gifted,” greeted master of ceremonies Conroy Chino, Acoma Pueblo.

“You guys are my retirement plan,” said keynote speaker Winona LaDuke, director of White Earth Land Recovery Project.

After spending her life fighting bad projects, she said she wanted to get to a place where “we’re not always fighting bad ideas” like nuclear power plants, or blowing the tops of mountains off. She offered solutions – tribal farms and growing a healthy food economy, community relocalization, and especially on tribal lands, the development of wind power – 185,000 megawatts of power in the next 10 years – she said.

Winona LaDuke, AISES keynote speaker.

In spite of the state of the earth, her message was inspiring. “Together we have a chance to do the right thing. … what a wonderful opportunity you have.” She left the stage wrapped in a Pendleton blanket, a gift from AISES, while the audience gave her a standing ovation.

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The AISES Council of Elders, along with Nez Perce elder and spiritual leader, Dr. Horace Axtell offered the prayers and blessings. Retired Commander and former NASA Astronaut John Herrington, Chickasaw, carried the Eagle Staff in the opening ceremony, in the company of the American Flag, Oregon’s state flag, and the Canadian flag.

Then there was the Halloween Party Oct. 30. A polar bear showed up, a bearded monk, Jimi Hendrix, Dorothy and the Scarecrow, Cleopatra and a handful of pirates – one young woman did a perfect impression of Michael Jackson doing his “Thriller” routine.

Despite the distance traveled by the students, many wore full regalia at the non-contest powwow held the final evening. Susan Schrader, a representative of AISES sponsor U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, followed along with enthusiasm, and participated in the Round Dance. “This is the best corp experience I’ve ever had, anywhere.”

Daytime events included workshops, a campus tour of Portland State University and the Oregon Health & Science University, career development sessions and ongoing career exhibitors.

Laura LaChusa, of the Mesa Grande Band of Mission Indians in California, said she was expecting to network and meet other students. “What I wasn’t expecting was the number of opportunities, like being able to interview different universities and agencies,” said the third-year undergrad from Berkeley’s U.C. Davis. “It was just an amazing experience.”