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Ecstatic. Shocked. Speechless.

These were the reactions of the Center for Native American Youth Champions for Change when they found out they had been selected to be a part of this year’s cohort. Entering its eighth year, Champions for Change is a year-long leadership and advocacy training program for Native youth ages 14 to 24.

The 2020 Champions for Change include: Owen Oliver, Quinault and Isleta Pueblo; Jazmine Wildcat, Northern Arapaho; Warren Davis, Navajo; Isabella Madrigal, Cahuilla Band of Indians and Turtle Mountain Chippewa; and Shavaughna Underwood, Quinault.

Founder of the Center for Native American Youth and former North Dakota Senator Byron Dorgan said in a press release that he is proud of the Native youth who have taken part in the program since its inception.

“When we created the first Champions program eight years ago, I saw its impact on these young leaders and knew we needed to do this every year,” Sen. Dorgan said. “Today, I’m so proud that we created a program that shines all the spotlights on these remarkable Native youth who are doing great things for their communities.”

Each individual brings their own dynamic to this year’s class, with all of them working on issues ranging from missing and murdered Indigenous women to language and cultural revitalization to Native storytelling and more.

This year is also unique in the fact that it’s the first time a sibling of a former Champion for Change has been selected.

Jazmine Wildcat was inspired by watching her older sister’s growth and seeing the professional tools she gained when she went through the program in 2016. It was the third time Wildcat had applied to be a Champion for Change and was excited to share the news with her family when she got the call. She didn’t get in the two times before.

“I was appalled, I was freaking out,” Wildcat said. “I was so excited to let my older sister know because we’re the first siblings to be Champions for Change so that was pretty exciting.”

Jazmine Wildcat (Northern Arapaho)

(Jazmine Wildcat, Northern Arapaho)

She added her entire family is into activism and volunteering, and that she is looking forward to using the program to build a platform to end the negative stigmatization of mental health.

Similar to Wildcat, Shavaughna Underwood had previously applied for the program but in her words were, “hardcore rejected.” After getting her degree and more experience under her belt, she applied again, this time receiving good news.

Underwood wants other Native youth to know that they should never get discouraged in the day to day grind of life, that with or without a platform, you can do good things.

“I’m excited to spread a positive message that no matter where you come from or what your challenges are, you can do great things,” Underwood said.

Shavaughna Underwood (Quinault Indian Nation)

(Shavaughna Underwood, Quinault Indian Nation)

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None of this year’s group have previously met or spoken with one another other than chain emails. That will all change next month when they all will be in Washington, D.C.

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Each individual highlight the positive impacts Native youth can have on their communities. Warren Davis currently works for Title VI Northern Utah Native Connections as a paraprofessional. He serves and mentors Native youth on a daily and weekly basis at major high schools in and near Logan, Utah.

One of the projects he is currently working on is creating Navajo language resources for young kids that is understandable and easy to grasp. He strives to motivate his students and Native youth to find the leader within themselves.

“As young Indigenous people, I think that’s one of the most important things that we can do for ourselves and for them, we know that leader is in there, we know there’s those strong bloodlines,” Davis said. “We just have to cultivate that within them.”

Warren Davis, Navajo Nation

(Warren Davis, Navajo)

One sentiment Davis shared that rang true for all of this year’s Champions is the fact he is excited for the year ahead and is looking forward to bringing back what he learns to his community.

Another thread that ties this year’s Champions together is the fact that they are all from the western United States, hailing from Utah, California, Wyoming and Washington State.

Owen Oliver is currently in his third year at the University of Washington, working on a degree in American Indian Studies. As an urban Native, Oliver says he wants other Native youth to know they belong in academia and he is looking forward to being an ambassador for Native youth through the next year and beyond.

He heard about Champions for Change through word of mouth and his dad always told him to take risks, that he had nothing to lose by applying. Oliver is excited to work with like-minded activists to uplift and empower Native youth across the country.

“Sometimes as Native youth we don’t think our ideas or our thoughts are always correct because of institutional racism or being put down but sometimes people want to hear our voices,” Oliver said. “If you really care about it and other people care about it, they will find you and you will be heard.”

(Owen Oliver, Quinault Indian Nation and Isleta Pueblo)

(Owen Oliver, Quinault Indian Nation and Isleta Pueblo)

A major issue that has gained a lot of traction over the past few years is missing and murdered Indigenous women and Isabella Madrigal wants to make sure it continues to gain traction as a Champion for Change.

Madrigal said it is something that affects Natives everywhere and the taking of Native women and girls is a “taking” symptom of colonization that sought to take and remove language, culture and identity from Natives.

She added that there has been a reawakening of Indigenous people to share their voice and that it is especially powerful when it comes from Native youth.

“I love to hear other young Native voices because you know, that gives me a lot of hope for the future,” Madrigal said.

(Isabella Madrigal, Cahuilla Band of Indians and Turtle Mountain Chippewa)

(Isabella Madrigal, Cahuilla Band of Indians and Turtle Mountain Chippewa)

In addition to being named Champions for Change, the cohort will also serve on the Center for Native American Youth’s Youth Advisory Board and be named Generation-Indigenous ambassadors. The term runs for one year.

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Kolby KickingWoman is a reporter/producer for Indian Country Today. He is Blackfeet/Gros Ventre from the great state of Montana and currently reports and lives in Washington, D.C. Follow him on Twitter - @KDKW_406. Email -

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