2016 Class of UNITY 25 Under 25 Honorees Share Their Experiences
The 25 Under 25 UNITY Honorees participated throughout the year in various leadership roles at UNITY events. They served as Peer Leaders, photographers, videographers in UNITY’s Today’s Native Leaders training sessions, workshop presenters, group leaders and co-host/emcees at the UNITY National and Mid-Year conferences. One of the honorees was recently named a 2017 Champion for Change through the Center for Native American Youth, and two others were among the recipients of a Dreamstarter grant through the Running Strong For American Indian Youth organization.
This recognition program is building momentum in Indian country and many youth make inquiries regularly through UNITY’s social media sites and at UNITY events about when application process for the next class of 25 Under 25 honorees will open. Many explain, they are preparing their projects, recommendations civic participation so they can submit competitive applications. The youth take this award of distinction very seriously and consider the award a major accomplishment to add to their portfolios.
Following are comments submitted by a majority of the 2016 honorees. They are testimonials to the effective and long reaching effects of this wonderful UNITY program, which is partly funded by the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community.
It has been a privilege to serve as a UNITY 25 Under 25 honoree, especially during the 40 th anniversary year of UNITY’s founding. I now reside 3,000 miles from my Alaskan tribe in a 90% predominately white community so I’ve had to ‘think out of the box’ to be involved in and bring awareness to Native issues as an individual. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Council made a call for statements in support of their protection of their water last August. I drafted a statement after proposing the idea in a “25er” conference call, two peers reviewed it, and then I sent the statement to my fellow 25 Under 25 youth leaders who are from diverse tribes. Twenty-three individuals signed. I sent the statement to the SRST and the newly formed International Indigenous Youth Council. Later I sent it to President Obama with my own request to deny an easement for the pipeline and demanded a full EIS report. This statement was a way for youth to let the SRST youth and the Cheyenne River youth know their peers were in support of their #NoDAPL initiative. I took into consideration that we were acting as individuals, some of us are from oil producing regions or wary of taking a perceived “political” stand. As a believer in being a lifetime ambassador for the earth, choosing the right side and protecting sacred water for generations was the stand to take. No one could have predicted the historic Indigenous movement that started in Cannon Ball and still has no end in sight. The Seventh Generation has risen.
In October I organized an Indigenous Peoples’ Day Solidarity with Standing Rock educational event near Lake Placid. I held it outdoors at the abolitionist John Brown historic site. I gave a speech on the events in North Dakota, the nonviolent expression of prayers for sacred water on the part of the Water Protectors, advocacy for protection of burial sites on unceded treaty land, and spoke of the American, Indigenous and human rights violations by local authorities in Morton County. I gave attendees ideas on how to be an ally to Natives. I had a representative from an environmental group speak and invited a peer whose tribe is indigenous to the land here speak, a music duo provided nature music and an Episcopalian pastor give a water blessing. We were lucky to have an Akwesasne elder hear of my event and offer a traditional Thanksgiving blessing. A #NoDAPL petition was later mailed to the Army Corps. Later, three allies divested from a regional bank, peacefully arranged their arrest in a sit-in to bring awareness to DAPL investment by banks. A local veteran and two ladies also went to ND with supplies and monetary donations from this small area. Earlier I was invited to speak to Mothers Out Front members about Native youth activism and Standing Rock movement’s origins. All of this was for ally building and being a bridge to the regional Native people with those who have forgotten they live for centuries on indigenous grounds. I continue to make calls and send emails when #NoDAPL related actions are requested as much as I can as a 17 year old.
I spent much time preparing for a six week visit from my niece (Oglala and Athabascan) who had just graduated from my former Alaskan village school (30 students K to 12th, the only senior and first in a decade to enter college). I arranged first time activities and math tutoring as well as self-defense classes in exchange for volunteer opportunities and good will from residents here who understood how my “Fresh Start” senior project would help a deserving youth transition to a large urban campus environment after a sheltered upbringing. It may not be “NERDS,” but for her, we helped tie up loose ends before college, arranged for her to meet her ten year old Oregon half-brother (Oglala and Tlingit) for the first time and camp on a glacier. (btw: Girls On Ice is a free program looking for diverse girls to apply; pass the word) She’s in her second semester at UAF-Fairbanks. My mom was an invaluable help in this project. This energy investment brought awareness of issues facing American youth other than those who reside in ‘long-settled’ places on the east coast.
I approached two junior students who are also minority students (daughter of Chinese immigrants and African American) to be co-founders of an advocacy group called AYE – Adirondack Youth for Equality. It appealed to them and they can continue it after I graduate. Our first letter was to the Superintendent asking for an expanded effort to advertise staffing positions so minority applicants would apply. There are no people of color in the K to 12th classrooms, offices or in school support staff positions. I have never had a teacher who was other than white, even in Alaska. We asked that a Scholarship Club start this fall for student research and sharing of national scholarship opportunities conducted in an open, non-competitive, self-empowered manner. This would help first generation college students and those from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds as well as single parent households who may lack the time to help their child. My guidance counselor knows absolutely nothing about opportunities for Native students despite my mom asking her four years ago to call the counselors from a nearby tribe and a more diverse school. AYE club will host speakers such as a transgendered woman, a SURJ-Standing Up For Racial Justice spokesperson and submit book lists of authors who are minorities to the libraries.
In November, I represented UNITY by giving a speech right after Democratic and Green Party Congressional candidates at the annual Climate March in Saranac Lake. I addressed climate change in Alaska as well as the significance of issues in the Standing Rock struggle. I reached out to the St. Regis Tribe and a young lady came, sang and said a cultural blessing. In January, I spoke at a Martin Luther King –peace and justice – church event about nonviolent direct action and shared updates from Standing Rock. At UNITY’s conference I conducted a stretching workshop and explained how my dad makes traditional snowshoes which as a craft are as endangered as the Arctic’s climate. I continue to advocate by sharing progressive news articles and alerts on Facebook. I have learned about unfamiliar issues from the postings of people I briefly met at national Native youth events. I’ll have to tamper down my activity time in college which is okay as I won’t be in an isolated situation like here in the Adirondacks. Thank you all for this opportunity to serve my community locally and nationally.
During my term as one of UNITY’s 25 Under 25 Honoree’s I have taken on a lot of roles in my workplace to help serve the students at our school. I work at St. Francis Indian School on the Rosebud reservation. For the current school year, I am the student council advisor for our middle and high school. I help the students plan and organize events and give them opportunities to use their voice in our school. Our student council is in the process to change the name of our school, as some of the students think we should have a name that represents them better, like Sicangu Lakota. We have learned a lot about the history of our school in the process. We have been fundraising so that all 27 students on our student council can attend the National 2017 UNITY Conference in Denver, CO. Our student council has been working on creating a UNITY Chapter in our school.
Apart from student council advising, I also teach high school graphic design and technology classes, have an after school dance club, create and publish our school newsletter, coach Girls On The Run, and I am currently working on creating an after school computer science program at our school. It has been an honor to be part of UNITY’S 2016 25 Under 25 Class. Pilamaya!
During my time as a UNITY 25 Under25 honoree, I have continued to commit my service to my local church as part of its worship ministry where I spend time with various groups of this ministry throughout the week and serve during the services, as well as other events and small groups that occur throughout the week.
As a 25 Under 25 honoree, I continue to be a leader in my community and continue to serve other as I attend college and work two jobs. For college, I am also going to high school as a student teacher and helping out in the classroom. To be an honoree of the 25 Under 25 award program has given me an opportunity to gain the experience and a greater chance at leading Native youth and local communities by my own example and show what it means to be a servant of the people and a hard working person to create a better future for myself and for others.
After receiving UNITY’s 25 under 25 award in July 2016 I have since dedicated my time to serving my indigenous community through language preservation. As a California Choctaw, I live outside of my nation’s territory and I currently use social media to advocate for change within my community. I choose to promote for the increase of Choctaw language by showcasing the beauty of the traditional Christian hymns sung in the Choctaw language. By recording these hymns, some of which have not been recorded by a solo artist (especially a female), I am helping others to see the loveliness of this nasally spoken language. Since I am not an advanced student in the Choctaw language, it has taken some time for me to adjust to singing these complex songs. Currently, I have three songs that have been recorded on YouTube during my time as a 25 under 25 honoree.
For the first time, there is now a music book that was just released in the Choctaw Nation that I plan to use to accompany me in my future songs. When I had first spoken to the composer of these songs at my tribes annual Labor Day festival, he had been working to bring a new melody to the only hymns and received enough funding to support the creation of this particular music book. When I had told him about my project, he was delighted that I had taken an interest in his work and gave me permission to use his music. At the California Choctaw gathering hosted with Okla Chahta Clan of California, Inc. they have asked me to sing at Sunday service and give a presentation on the importance of these songs for language preservation.
Beyond this, I plan to produce language videos as well as create updated lessons on the app called Memrise when my tribe’s language department releases their new Choctaw dictionary hopefully this year. This app is commonly used amongst my people to practice the older versions of the Choctaw language outside of the nation. I encouraged others by playing this language game myself and trying to beat their current scores on the leadership board. The more resources that can be produced to help encourage others to learn Choctaw will further my efforts in promoting the practice of speaking and writing this endangered language.
I have been honored to represent UNITY 25 under 25 2016. During my honoring period, I spoke on Mvskoke Media/Native News Today TV program about sexual assault among Native Youth, I participated in a Native Youth Panel during the 2017 SAMSHA Prevention Day Conference in Washington D.C., met with the director of SAMSHA to discuss improving prevention programs in Indian Country while including Native voices/culture into their programs, I’ve written several articles for Indian Country Today, and am completing my agenda for the Charles Head Memorial Native Youth Summit which will occur April 1, 2017 to address sexual/domestic abuse in Indian Country. I continue to be a voice for the voiceless and look forward to attending college this Fall.
Greetings, My name is Anissa Garcia. I am twenty two (22) years old. I am Akimel O’odham from the Gila River lndian Community. My parents are Mario Garcia and Darren Pedro-Martinez. My paternal grandparents are Manfred Garcia and the late Charlotte Garcia and my maternal grandparents are the late Marvin Juan and Leatrice Juan. I am a student at Chandler-Gilbert Community College and full time employee with the Gila River lndian Community as a recreation aide. I was also a 25Under25 member of the class of 2016. I am a basket dancer and toka player. I am the current reigning Miss Gila River 2017- 2018 and an honorary member of the Akimel O’odham/Pee-Posh Youth Council. I would like to take this time to thank you from the bottom of my heart for showing such appreciation for us youth who are too humble to accept that that things we are doing are actually amazing and matter. I am very honored and humbled to have been selected in the second class as one of the 25Under25 recipients. I honestly didn’t think that I would get it because I felt that I wasn’t doing enough and that everything I did is what I am supposed to being doing regardless. After much hesitation and with no expectations of receiving a call of “congratulations, you were selected as one of the 25Under25 recipients!” l went ahead and submitted my application. With this acknowledgment, it has pushed me out of my comfort zone to do more than what I thought I would ever do. Like, having a little girl’s toka “intro” team. That was my main focus this year, was the youth and fitness. We have a traditional women’s game called toka where it is played like hockey. Only, we don’t wear any gear. I have started a small group where I do demonstrations with the girls ages 6-11 (and sometimes older) and teach them the rules, how to play, which techniques would work best for them, the song, the meaning of it all before they even jump on an actual team. This way when they do decide that they are ready, they won’t feel lost and have to ask a thousand questions to the person in charge or anyone really, they’ll just know and also be able to teach someone themselves. l’ve been asked to demonstrations for some schools and I will bring the young girls with me to assist, and give them that opportunity to speak and teach what they know, I would just fill in what they miss. So, it gives them a chance to work on their public speaking and sense of knowledge they hold. With that being said, I thank you all for your encouragement, sponsorship and support of who we are and what we are able to do. l, for one will be forever grateful. Thank you.
I’ve been doing a lot of work with food sovereignty and getting Native communities excited about eating healthy. I’ve kicked my cooking show off the ground and am preparing to do a week of filming this summer. “Indigikitchen” uses digital media to spread information about how to prepare Native foods. Besides that, I’ve also been volunteering at the Helena Indian Alliance. The newly established youth program provides tutoring, drum lessons, and open gym times for the urban natives in the Montana capital city. I continue to strive to be healthy and positive role model in my Native community and advocate for youth voices in all spaces.
It’s been almost a full year since I was named a 25 under 25 from UNITY. I was named a 25Under25 in regards to the work I’ve been doing in preserving my Indian language called Salish. I am from the Confederated Salish & Kootenai Tribes on the Flathead Indian Reservation in Montana.
From the time, I was named a 25U25 to now, I, along with a handful of others have kept busy in our efforts to save our language. In early fall we hosted a language gathering with our neighboring tribes in Montana to continue to build bridges and exchange language tools, ideas and options in regards to saving our languages. Not long after this gathering, we began to set up for our annual hunting camp that takes place along the Flathead River. Not only do we teach our young people about hunting, but we bring our culture, stories and especially our language to all these gatherings. This shows young people that it’s important and alive.
After fall, comes winter time, we as Salish people bring our Coyote stories back out. What I mean by this, is we only share these stories when the snow is on the ground. These is a great time to not only share the stories, but a good time to share the Salish languages within our Coyote stories. Many of our young people look forward to these stories every year. Teaching and learning my language is what I do best. Our language is a very beautiful thing. With teaching the language, also comes learning the culture, stories and knowing your elders. Building these relationships only strengths you and your tribe.
Over the last part of summer while I was still working with the Santa Ynez Chumash Environmental Office, we started a cultural preservation project. We started building an ‘Ap, traditional Chumash house. We harvested the willow from our creek and the tule from a restoration site in Santa Barbara. It is the biggest ‘Ap on the reservation and will be used for language and culture classes for the youth.
My tribe now has a youth council!! After years of trying to get one started, we finally got a grant allowing us to start a youth council focused on youth suicide. It is slow starting out and there isn’t a big turnout but hopefully it will pick up speed. It is harder for me to participate at school but I am keeping in contact with them about staying involved.
I was also recently interviewed for a documentary about Chumash women that will be featured on “Chumash Life,” the tribe’s Youtube channel that is sometimes shown on TV allowing the community to know what’s going on in the tribe and in the valley.
I am in the process of starting the first Native American Students Association at my school. They just opened up a Cross-Cultural Center and I have come into contact with a Navajo professor who has expressed interest in being an advisor. I am excited to start one in the Chapman University community because they are not exposed to anything Native American. But although it has poor representation, I’m sure I am not the only one on campus. I have yet to meet any other Native American student here. This organization would allow us to congregate as a Native community, to provide support to one another, and allow us to work together to make a change in this community in particular.
Individually, I have also been involved in marches and #NoDAPL rallies in Oakland where my sister performed spoken word she wrote about the pipeline. It’s very good and I can ask her if I can share it with UNITY. Thank you.
Over the last year as a 25 Under 25 honoree, I served on the Etem Omvlkusen UNITY Council, transitioned from EOUC Member to EOUC Mentor for current members, and created the Rekindling 7 Generations (R7G) Cultural Education Program. In January 2017, I was also promoted to program manager for the Citizen Potawatomi Nation’s Tribal Youth Program to implement the R7G Cultural Education program and better ground past prevention and college and career readiness programs in Neshnabe Culture. Receiving the 25 Under 25 award has provided me with a stronger platform to uplift Native youths’ voices and experiences in my local community and has connected me to a much larger network of Native youth inspiring change in their local communities and nationwide for Native America. I have remained in contact with several of the other 25 Under 25 honorees, especially those who are also working in Native education fields. We have been able to trade stories, knowledge, and resources to better support the Native children and youth that we work with day to day.
As R7G moves forward, much of my work has begun to focus on developing healthy relationships and sexual health curriculum for youth and their families. Living in Oklahoma, many Native and non-Native youth do not have access to healthy relationship and sexual health education, let alone this education being culturally grounded and based on contemporary Native experiences. Many sexual health topics, including safe sexual health practices, sexual orientation/two spirit advocacy, sexual and physical assault rates of Native women and two spirited people, and the missing and murdered Indigenous women throughout the Americas, remain difficult for many Native and non-Native families to discuss. However, Native youth, especially here in Oklahoma, recognize the urgency and need for us to break from these European/Christian, colonized notions of sexual health and embrace our traditional knowledge and teachings of the importance of Native women and two spirited people in our communities to spread knowledge and awareness. To name these experiences and know the structures that produce them, is one of the first steps towards healing for individuals and our larger communities and nations.
Kche Migwetth for this opportunity as a 25 Under 25 honoree.
Within my time as a UNITY 25Under25 honoree, I got more youth in my tribal community involved with our traditional sports and culture. Our traditional sport, (War Canoeing) is very demanding on time, commitment, mental, and physical strength. To quote my grandfather and mother, “What you do in the canoe, is what you’ll do in life. You have to be committed to be a paddler, if it were easy, everyone would do it.” Getting more youth involved with our culture teaches them life skills that will guide them in their future, and it keeps this part of our culture alive. I firmly believe War Canoing promotes a healthy lifestyle, and helps keep our youth drug and alcohol free.
Over the past few months representing UNITY as the class of 2016 25 Under 25, I have done various community service projects. These projects are based on the revitalization of language and culture. I have completed these projects with my youth council, I am currently on my second term as President of the council.
First, as a council we put on our annual East High Dance Festival. Having a potluck then 6 dance groups dancing right after. This event was also open to the public. We also did activity/project to celebrate Elizabeth Peratrovich day we made a big poster, various posters throughout the school and sold frybread as well as gave flags out having different facts about Elizabeth on them. Now Elizabeth Peratrovich day has passed we are now planning another Dance Festival and Banquet which will take place at the end of the school year.
After leaving the conference on Oklahoma I got in touch with one of my role models Michael Chingman who was also a member on our tribal council. Michael and me were always involved in community outreach and volunteer work back home on the Wind River Indian Reservation. He always gave back to his people and really was the one who inspired me to get involved with UNITY. We met several times in July and pretty much planned out events that we would do for the rest of his term as well as my 25u25 term. One of the first things we set up was helping out our tribal elders. Every Saturday from July through November we’d get together and we would go out and clean the Elders’ houses and take out there trash. We got a list of who we’re elders and where they lived from the Enrollment office and just started checking on them and doing whatever they needed us to do. We ranged from mopping their floors and cleaning bathrooms to cutting lawn and building walkways. There were times where we’d get help from other people but for the most time it was just us two. Along with this we even started to cook traditional foods and one Sunday we devoted the whole day to go pick chokecherries in order to make chokecherry gravy because the elders don’t have the ability to trek into the woods and pick them for themselves. Within the Elder check-ups we also set up different carry in dinners. The purpose of the dinners was just to get people in and engage in a social night with good laughs and good storytelling. Near the end of Mike’s council term we organized a Military Appreciation dinner and invited several active duty, veterans, police officers, and paramedics and firefighters were also 25U25 REPORT 1 invited to this dinner. We raised a little bit of funds but other than that we both paid out of pocket to get the ball rolling on this. We had over 150 people come out for the dinner and it was a huge success. We had other dinners like this but by far this was one that the community really responded too and thanked us for dinner. We started to organize more dinners similar to this including Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners. Most of the time we were the cooks but after it got into a regular flow we had more volunteers show up and take over. One of the other things I took the initiative over was graffiti cleanups and roadside trash pickups. I work full time Monday-Friday so it allowed me to spend my weekends volunteering and doing all sorts of community work and near the end of summer a lot of our tribal buildings that had been built for over 100 years got tagged up by some people. So I got some of my friends together and on our own will we went and bought the paint and cleaner to remove all of the graffiti. It was nice because after we had done this the Tribal Council took note of this and offered to reimburse us but because we didn’t want to do it for profit we stood by our pride and refused the payment. Being a part of the 25 Under 25 class has been such a blessing to me and my family. I’m glad that I was able to be honored with a select few of some of the best advocates in Indian Country. I always remain humble and just hate being put in the spotlight because when I volunteer I do it to make the world a better place, I never ask for recognition or brag about it. It feels good to know that my kindness and generosity is noticed and I can’t thank UNITY enough because it definitely saved my life and now I get to let others know that it doesn’t take much to make a difference, all you need is a strong spirit and the vision to do good things.
Since receiving the UNITY 25 under 25 Award DeLesslin George-Warren has engaged with his community and the world through several projects including an indigenous truth-telling tour of the Smithsonian’s Presidential Portrait Gallery (http://hyperallergic.com/345116/on-teaching-native-american-history-through-the-smithsonians-presidential-portraits/) which has been attended by hundreds of people, writing articles about history and the #NoDAPL movement (http://www.sixbyeightpress.com/ripples-of-resistance), organizing and attending #NoDAPL protests in the District of Columbia, and briefly visiting the Oceti Sakowin camp (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lX3v_zC4_C4).
My name is Rory Wheeler, 19 of the Seneca Nation of Indians and I had the distinct honor to be named a 2015 Earth Ambassador and a 2016 recipient of the “25 Under 25” award by United National Indian Tribal Youth (UNITY).
As a recipient of the “25 under 25” award, I have been connected with fellow Native youth who are doing remarkable work in their communities. Their inspiration, leadership and wisdom has motivated me to do more in my community and encourage other youth to do the same.
During this time, I used my skills as an Emergency Medical Technician to volunteer for the Medic Healer Council at the Oceti Sakowin Camp in Cannon Ball, ND. In my motivation to do more for my community, I took on a more active role in our reservation’s volunteer fire department. At the conclusion of 2016, I was named a top responder and awarded the Emergency Medical Technician of the year award – youngest in company history.
Due to my keen interest in tribal government, politics and with the support of my tribal council, I was elected Vice President of the National Congress of American Indians Youth Commission. Also, I have served as a peer mentor for the Seneca Nation Youth Program, motivating our Native youth on goal setting, leadership and how to be that shining star in our community. I was also selected to the National Indian Health Board’s Tribal Youth Advisory Committee. Without the support and encouragement of the UNITY Staff and my fellow “25 Under 25” honorees, I would of not been able to achieve these accomplishments in this tenure. Now, I want to use my voice to motivate and encourage my fellow Native youth to always to their best and to ultimately make their ancestors proud.
While my tenure as a 25U25, I have been quite active in my community and the surrounding communities. I have spoken on numerous occasions about UNITY and the 25U25 program. I have also educated many of the youth about UNITY and what it stands for. I have worked with my community to do a river cleanup as well as one that was held by the community to the North of us in Canada. I have been able to speak in Lake Placid on numerous occasions as well. I spoke at the MLK Day event in Saranac Lake regarding Youth Activism and beyond.
In the the past service of being a 25 under 25, I have done a few small projects. I have continued work with WRAAC (Wind River All Action Crew). We have done different projects of service. Our most recent project was marching in a local women’s march for VAWA and missing Indigenous women. As of a personal project I am working with the Keepers of Fire. Keepers of Fire is a Native american college club. I am working with them to bring back a powwow here at the University of Wyoming. I am also working to start another chapter of WRAAC but here in Laramie. These projects have my work cut out, but they are also short terms goals. I also just recently went to Washington DC, to speak about prevention at SAMSHA’s Prevention Day. As for education I am taking 19 credits this semester, and will be a junior. This will put me a year ahead for graduation. At the end of May I will be traveling to New Zealand to study the culture there, and explore the immersion schools there. These are my accomplishments that I have achieved during my time as a 25 under 25 honoree. Thank you.
Yá’á’t’ééh shik’éí dóó shidine’é. Shí éí Eric Woody yinishyé. Ádóone’é nishlínígíí éí Bit’ahnii nishł. Tł’ááschí’í éí báshíshchíín. Tó’aheedlíinii éí dashicheii dóó Naanesht’ézhí táchii’nii éí dashinálí. Ákót’éego éí ts’nishł. Dághaałgaiida’ naashá. Shimá éí Michelle Woody wolyé dóó shizhé’é éí Harrison Woody wolyé.
Hello, my family and people, my name is Eric Woody. My clans are Within His Cover and born for Red Streaked Temple Area of the Face clan. My maternal grandfather is the Water Flow Together clan. My paternal grandfather is of the Zuni clan. I am a young Navajo man. I currently reside in Kirtland, New Mexico. Kirtland is a small town located two hours from Albuquerque, New Mexico and 20 minutes away from the Navajo Nation border. My mother’s name is Michelle Woody and my father’s name is Harrison Woody.
Serving as a 25 Under 25 Ambassador has been one of many opportunities that I have taken thus far in my life. During my time as an ambassador I worked closely with not only my community, but with UNITY as well. Through United National Indian Tribal Youth (UNITY), I was able to attend 3 Today’s Native Leaders (TNL) trainings as a peer leader and a videographer. I was also able to attend a 2016 National UNITY conference, 2017 Mid-year conference, and I will be attending the upcoming 2017 National UNIITY conference.
The biggest project that I have worked on while serving as a United National Indian Tribal Youth (UNITY) 25 Under 25 is with the Navajo Nation government and the Diné Community Advocacy Alliance. I had to the opportunity to be an advocate for Diné Community Advocacy Alliance (DCAA) to advocate for a healthier Navajo Nation. I advocated for the passing of the Healthy Diné Act. The Healthy Diné Act imposes a two percent sales tax, in addition to the Navajo Nation’s current five percent sales tax on “junk food” sold within the Navajo Nation. The sales tax increase is part of an overall effort to promote healthy living and bring to awareness to the diabetes epidemic that is affecting a growing number of Navajo people. The revenue will be used by Navajo chapters to develop community parks, basketball courts, walking, running and bike trails, community gardens, family picnic grounds, and health education classes.
Another role I have taken part in is creating and managing a website for the Navajo Heritage Museum that is in the process of being built within the city limits of Farmington, New Mexico. This project itself is still in process and lengthy, but will be worth it in the end.
Another opportunity I had while serving as a UNITY 25 Under 25 is being able to attend the Today’s Native Leaders conferences and serve as a peer leader and a videographer. The Today’s Native Leaders trainings I attended were in Palm Springs, California, Anchorage/Homer, Alaska. The Today’s Native Leaders training was an experience of a lifetime. It was experience to travel to destinations that I’ve never been to.
The trip was definitely an eye-opener. Often, some of us tend to take what we have for granted. Or, we assume many things without experiencing it first-hand. I say that it was an eye-opener because I got to see and hear about the struggles that other Native American and Alaska Natives are experiencing in their community. To solve this, we trained and helped the youth plan service projects that will address these issues. Aside from the hard work, I also got connect with youth from across the United States. It is awesome because I’m still connecting with the youth that I met. This experience has taught me how to plan a community service project step by step. I’m now able to come back and show this information with not only my youth council, but my community as well. In Palm Springs, California, I was presented with the opportunity of being the cinematographer/photographer. Being able to have this experience has also taught me more about my passion for cinematography and photography.
As I stated above, serving as a United National Indian Tribal Youth 25 Under 25 has been one of the best opportunities that I’ve taken thus far. I strongly encourage others to take the opportunity to serve as a UNITY 25 Under 25. Being awarded as a 25 Under 25 and upholding leadership positions has taught me more about myself. It has also pushed me to be a better version of myself because as people we all have areas for continued growth.