American Indian youth and their advisors from tribes across the nation addressed issues such as suicide and climate change at the UNITY Midyear Conference recently in Washington, D.C. United National Indian Tribal Youth, also known as UNITY, hosted the annual youth leadership event at the Hyatt Regency Crystal City in Arlington, Virginia.
One powerful session included the passage of a resolution by members of the National UNITY Council to address suicide. The most recent statistics from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention state that American Indians and Alaska Natives have the highest rate, more than double, of suicides among 10-24 year olds based on race/ethnicity and sex in the United States.
UNITY Midyear Conference cultural night.
“The youth voted unanimously to pass our Suicide Prevention Resolution. It meant so much because in doing that they showed support for youth out there who feel like they are alone and that they have no other option. The youth gave a voice to the voiceless because people don’t like to talk about this issue. I just wanted to thank all the youth participants and let them know they were all amazing and I’m so proud of each and every one of them,” said Julian Juan, 23, Tohono O’odham Nation, National UNITY Council Western Region Representative.
The conference, which focused on culturally relevant leadership development, included sessions on team building, financial literacy, and developing community service projects. Several youth from the National UNITY Council and its Executive Committee served as youth facilitators.
During the conference, the White House joined with American Indian and Alaska Native youth attendees to launch the Generation Indigenous (Gen-I) Native Youth Challenge. Native youth were encouraged to become actively involved in the Gen-I challenge. The challenge provides Native youth with opportunities to use digital platforms to tell their stories and share the positive contributions they are making in their communities.
UNITY Midyear Conference business meeting.
Other highlights included youth presentations by Native youth who participated in the Today’s Native Leaders (TNL) Community Service Academies. The TNL Community Service Academies are sponsored by UNITY and the Department of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. The regional and national trainings and learning opportunities are designed to increase positive outcomes in schools, communities and family environments.
In addition, members of the inaugural class of UNITY’s 25 Under 25 Leaders gave presentations on projects they’re working on in their communities. The 25 Under 25 Leadership Awards program, sponsored by the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community and presented last summer at UNITY’s National Conference, is designed to celebrate the achievements of Native American and Alaskan Native youth ages 14 to 24 and provide learning opportunities that focus on UNITY’s core mission promoting spiritual, mental, physical and social well-being. The next class of UNITY 25 Under 25 Leadership Awards will be announced in 2016.
UNITY 25 Under 25 presentation.
Tribal youth groups represented at the UNITY Midyear Conference included Alabama Coushatta (Texas), Choctaw (Mississippi), Cherokee (North Carolina), Poarch Band Of Creek Indians (Alabama), San Carlos Apache and Navajo (Arizona), Red Lake Chippewa (Minnesota) and Lumbee (North Carolina).
“The UNITY Midyear Conference was one of the best Midyear Conferences in my entire time coming to UNITY. Between the youth and the speakers it was all around a great event,” said Brian Weeden, 22, Mashpee Wampanoag, National UNITY Council Co-President.
Lead trainers from One Chance Leadership included Chance Rush, Hidatsa, and Marcus Guinn, Osage and Potawatomie. Both are UNITY alumni and have served as Lead Trainers for UNITY in past years. Guinn, who is also a rap artist and DJ, has served on the National UNITY Council Executive Committee.
UNITY Midyear Conference business meeting.
Established 38 years ago, UNITY—United National Indian Tribal Youth, Inc.—is a national organization promoting personal development, citizenship, and leadership among tribal youth. UNITY is composed of 145 affiliated youth councils in 35 states, sponsored by tribes, Alaska Native villages, high schools, colleges, and urban Native centers.