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Hundreds participate in Red Lake Youth Leadership Conference


RED LAKE, Minn. – The Fourth Annual Red Lake Youth Leadership Conference was held March 30 – April 1 at Red Lake High School in Red Lake, Minn. The conference theme this year was Maawanji’iding, Gathering Together. Workshops and presentations were held each day and there was a youth basketball tournament, entertainment, banquet, door prizes and an Honor the Youth Pow-wow.

For the second year in a row, a snowstorm dropped 12 inches of snow causing Tuesday’s sessions to end early. However, this didn’t dampen the excitement of the 504 registrants who attended. Participants came from miles around, including Leech Lake, White Earth, the Bug School, Bemidji, Voyageurs Charter, and other schools.

This is the fourth year the Red Lake Tribal Council, tribal programs and other organizations have sponsored this event for the youth of Red Lake Nation and others. A host of Red Lake member professionals, and well-known guest speakers from across Indian country, joined to share their knowledge in leadership skills to motivate youth and to promote Native values, tradition and language.

An opening prayer was offered by Frank Dickenson, the spiritual advisor/leader for the conference, with the Wellbriety Drum. This was followed by welcoming remarks by Red Lake Band of Chippewa Chairman Floyd Jourdain Jr., and Youth Council President Anthony Morrison. A keynote address was presented by Robert Johnson, trainer/hypnotist, Muskogee Creek/Choctaw. On day two, the keynote was presented by Jeri Brunoe who also conducted the closing ceremony.


After clasping hands at the center, students had to untangle themselves until they were in a normal circle without letting go of each other’s hands.

“Over 65 percent of our Native population is under the age of 25. This staggering reality is the driving force of my motivation to work on behalf of our future existence,” said LeAndra Bitsie, Navajo, motivational speaker and youth trainer. In her session entitled “The Movers and Shakers of Native America,” Bitsie invites youth to experience their leadership abilities, how to use those abilities, and the amazing opportunities it will bring to a person and to the community. “My purpose is simple – each one, teach one. I have always encompassed a strong passion for Indian people. I believe it is my ultimate responsibility to support our progression. I hope to accomplish this through visionary training, a smile or a friendly handshake. It is my duty to share with our nations the inherit ability of potential, power and progress.”

Daytime activities included workshops on culture, traditional values, language, leadership and self-esteem. Other workshops were entitled “Native Pride Through Creative Writing and Hip Hop,” “Power of Positive Thinking” and “The Power of Vision.” Hand-drum making with Darren Defoe continued to be a very popular workshop. Some activities were just plain fun, like the “Human Knot” which taught problem solving and working together, a workshop conducted by the Red Lake Nation Youth Council. Students stand in a circle facing each other, they clasp hands and must untangle into a straight line without letting go of the other person’s hand.

Some serious issues were also addressed at the conference, including the presentation of a short film entitled “My Darkest Hour” which was written and directed by Happy Frejo, Pawnee/Seminole. The movie is aimed at suicide prevention and promotes hope and encouragement in today’s younger generation. The film depicts how substance abuse causes hopelessness and emptiness.

A workshop was conducted by the Red Lake Nation Youth Council, entitled “Feeding the Spirit.” Morrison, said the council was proud to have been involved in putting together the three day conference.

“We went to a training in Reno last July, Colin Wesaw helped us put together the various workshops and we were responsible in getting some of the workshop’s presenters and entertainers including SMOKE and hypnotist Robert Johnson. “I’d say there are about 12 of us on the Youth Council, one of our main agenda items is to learn leadership skills.”

Morrison is a senior at Red Lake High School. He wants to major in education and will go to college next year.

Salena Branchaud, an enrolled member of Red Lake Nation, has worked with chemical health for seven years. “I have always had a passion for working in this field. The leadership conference is not only to teach, but to help students head into the spring and summer feeling good about themselves.”