At Conference, Native American Youths Learn to Smoke Salmon, Play Lacrosse, and 'Talk Back'

An estimated 200 youths from across Indian country attended the 42nd Annual Northwest Indian Youth Conference on ancestral Methow lands in Washington.

While smoked salmon sat stacked nearby on a grill ready for the grubbing, a group of Native American youths from across Indian country participated in an introduction to lacrosse lesson, running up and down an open field, throwing the ball back and forth to one another. The scene was just one small moment of the 42nd Annual Northwest Indian Youth Conference.

Held this year in amid the mountains of Winthrop, Washington, on ancestral Methow (Colville) territory, the conference hosted a slew of workshops as well as talks from prominent Native Americans.

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The line up of speakers included co-founder of the American Indian Movement, Dennis Banks; photographer and creator of Project 562, Matika Wilbur; filmmaker and visual artist, Steven Paul Judd; the all-Native American comedy troupe The 1491s, Colville educator and author Dina Gilio-Whitaker; and writer and Culture Editor of Indian Country Media Network, Simon Moya-Smith, who was Monday’s keynote speaker.

The workshops were as varied as the line-up of speakers: The 1491s hosted a “Humor in Indian Country” improve workshop. Banks shared stories with the youths of the life and times of the American Indian Movement, and Judd enlisted the students to help him create a massive black-and-white mural using panels and acrylic paint. Popular among the 21 workshops was canoe-carving lessons, hosted by John Zinser, who taught students canoe-carving techniques while they worked together building a full-length operational canoe.

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Moya-Smith, during his keynote speech on the afternoon of April 3, encouraged the youths to continue to use social media as a means to “talk back” whenever what he called the “white narrative” is presented. He also encouraged the students in the room – mostly ranging from from eight to twelfth grades – to “keep going” when faced with rejection and failure.

“Picture rejection and failure as if they’re rungs on a ladder,” he told the room at the close of his speech. “As you climb, those rungs are staring you straight in the face, almost like they’re mocking you. But no matter what, even if it doesn’t feel like it, you’re still going up, climbing, and before you know it you’re at the top.”