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Mille Lacs Band youth group impacts tribal government

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Youth Advisory Council teens serve as role models and future community

ONAMIA, Minn. - It is not often that teenagers are given an influential
role in the decisions that affect their communities. In the Mille Lacs Band
of Ojibwe, however, teens are offered a unique opportunity to impact tribal
government - starting at the top.

Members of the Band's Youth Advisory Council (YAC) assist Chief Executive
Melanie Benjamin by offering their teenage perspective on issues affecting
band members.

Benjamin created the group to allow young band members a chance to have
their voices heard on important tribal issues. "Youth do not often feel
empowered to become active in their communities at this level," Benjamin
said. "Since the Youth Advisory Council began, the band has gained
tremendously from council members' insight and unique viewpoints."

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The YAC serves as the ears and voice for all Mille Lacs Band youth. Members
learn the structure and processes of government so they can effectively
work with mentors and government officials to solve issues for band youth,
the band as a whole and the surrounding community.

The council's seven members, ages 14 - 17, are elected by their peers in
all three districts of the Mille Lacs Reservation. Community forums are
held on the reservation prior to elections to allow candidates to share
information about themselves and the issues they feel are most important.

"I am the eldest grandchild in my family, and have a bunch of little
cousins looking up to me, so I have to be a very good role model," said
ValaReya Leecy, current YAC secretary/treasurer, in her application to
become a council candidate. "I think that helps me to be a role model for
other children as well."

YAC members attend monthly council meetings, plan events, participate in
community service projects for youth, attend important tribal functions,
and more. The teens also gain insight into the everyday operations of the
band's government through mentoring relationships with tribal government
officials and by voting on resolutions that are presented to the chief
executive. These activities help YAC members learn more about the band's
government and become more involved in their community.

"With this knowledge and experience, I'm certain these youth will remain
active in their communities and government, and become future leaders in
the Mille Lacs Band," said Benjamin.