A new kind of conference

Indian Country Today

Karla Booth talks about this year's all virtual Elders and Youth conference and national correspondent Mary Annette Pember tells us which of the political candidates she's following has been the hardest to pin down.

Indigenous Leadership Continuum director Karla Booth joins us today to talk about the 37th annual Statewide Elders and Youth conference. This year, the conference in a conference went completely digital.

Plus national correspondent Mary Annette Pember has been following several candidates. Today, she'll talk about one that's proven to be controversial.

Some quote's from today's show 

Karla Booth:

"Even though it was virtual, it still maintained the same spirit that we would have had if we were meeting in person. It required just a lot of before conference logistics balancing all these phone calls to set up speakers, emails, to confirm speakers. And then of course registration to make sure that we had attendees for our audience. So it was a lot of logistics, but it was all worth it all worth it. A very popular segment of our conference is our living and loving our cultures workshops. So these are our hands on workshops that allow participants to learn traditional knowledge and skills. And this year we had a total of I think about 14 workshops that were offered in this category and of those seven of them were required kits to be mailed out. So we actually made about 400 kits. And for those that received a kit, they were able to participate in cottonwood carving, cedar basket weaving, cedar bracelet weaving. They could sew a canvas rifle case. And then there was also COVID-19 hand sewn masks. So a lot to choose from. It was very popular with our participants."

"We couldn't be happier. Our elders were involved from the very beginning to the very end. On Sunday of our conference we had a warming of the hands gathering. This is the segment that really sets the tone for how we're going to be for the rest of the week. And it was such a beautiful gathering because on our call we had a couple of traditional healers that were really able to set the stage and remind us on how we can be open to the knowledge that's going to be shared and also how to take care of ourselves as we engage in the virtual conference. Then we heard from two elders that were in their nineties and we had one elder that was from Southeast Alaska, another elder that was from the interior. And then we rounded out our Sunday gathering with a storyteller that was from Southwest Alaska. So our elders really helped set the stage for our gathering at the very beginning. And they just, they maintained a presence throughout the event either by video conferencing in, or even calling in. Our elder keynote was Trimble Gilbert. And while we're waiting to speak with him, his generator went out. So we had to remain patient and keep a level head while we tried to get connection back with him. And it all worked out in the end and it was just beautiful and it really gave us what we needed during this time of COVID-19 to hear from our elders and to get guidance from them." 

"This is our 37th year for the elders and youth conference. So it does have a long history and I believe that it started with I think a gathering of the elders. It was the elders only, and then there was a gathering for the youth only. And then at some point while the Alaska Federation of Natives was hosting these events, they didn't decided to combine them. So then you started that annual conference of bringing our elders and our youth together. And then I believe it was in 2004 when AFN asked the First Alaskans Institute to go ahead and take over coordination of the conference. So, we've been doing it for, I think it's been about 16 years now and it just keeps getting better."

"This year we had an opportunity for our community members to send in videos of them and their unique talents. This year we got to see footage of skateboarding and doing gymnastics. We saw one performance of brothers singing Johnny Cash songs in youth in the Yupik language. Just look up the name of our organization on Facebook, or you can find us on the web at firstalaskans.org."

"We are nonpartisan but we definitely want to encourage our community to get out the Native vote. So throughout our conference, we saw videos of our leaders encouraging us to use our right to vote as well as we had a panel discussion talking about the benefits of voting. And then also of course taking part in the census. We needed to make sure throughout our conference that these messages were delivered. We know that if our youth are able to encourage the adults in their lives to vote, we think those adults are more likely to follow through. So never underestimate the power of our youth."

Mary Annette Pember:

"Well, yes, Donald Trump, I wrote about his recent foray into Indian Country. They created something that they called the Native American coalition. Which is not to be confused with his committee members as part of his cabinet. But actually it's just going into Indian Country and trying to get more boats and more support. And his son, Donald Trump, Jr. recently had a rally in Williams, Arizona. And I wrote about that and of course the claims that were made. What was really especially controversial to me was the reaction that we got from readers. They were just opposed, I guess, to any coverage of Donald Trump, but of course he is running for president. So I feel that we do have some obligation to write about the man, but I was really surprised at the visceral negative reaction that we got to that article."

"Well, apparently he is opposed to changing Columbus day to Indigenous People's Day. In particular he made mention that he doesn't want to change it and wants to keep quote unquote celebrating Christopher Columbus’s accomplishments. And he said, I'm opposed to changing it to Indigenous People's Day. And people just booed from the crowd, like in support, that they didn't want to change it. So that was kind of interesting. To say it as carefully as I can, I think he's sending really mixed messages to Native Americans."

"We haven't seen that. Markwayne Mullin was the representative who actually was in Williams and he kind of introduced the rally. We haven't seen any kind of plan for how he would address it in Native issues. Unlike Biden who has released quite a detailed plan. So, no, we haven't seen a lot. We have seen just pretty much a listing of what he describes as his accomplishments and legislation that he has passed."

"Yes, people were afraid to speak to me. They didn't want to go on the record. They said that they thought their family or friends would give them grief. I did have one young woman who spoke to me and then she thought better of it. She was concerned and so she asked to have her name taken off. Native people pretty much, from the data that we can find, there isn't a lot of data about this, but you know, certainly more, I think we can safely say more than 50% of Native people would vote Democratic and would probably identify themselves as Democrats. I've seen a couple of studies. One suggested that perhaps 19% of Native people vote Republican. And then another study even said it was far lower, more like 9%. I think we can pretty safely say that Indian Country is a Democratic block. So people's reaction, and it's a pretty visceral reaction to, I guess, what Donald Trump has done and to his policies. People did react really, really strongly. It often surprises me, the kinds of reactions that I get from articles that I write. Sometimes, I'll think, oh wow, people are really going to react strongly and then I'll get nothing. And then sometimes, you know I'll just do something in the course of the work and people will just, it will go viral. And this is one of those cases. It just went viral." 

Patty Talahongva, Hopi, is executive producer of Indian Country Today. She is also the anchor of the weekday newscast. Follow her on Twitter: @WiteSpider.

Also on today's show

Mary Annette Pember, citizen of the Red Cliff Ojibwe tribe, is national correspondent for Indian Country Today. On Twitter: @mapember. Based in Cincinnati, Ohio. Pember loves film, books and jingle dress dancing.

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