Mesa, Arizona – What better way to bond with Mother Earth than at the Grand Canyon? That was the goal when United National Indian Tribal Youth, Inc. (UNITY) planned a retreat at Grand Canyon West, on the Hualapai Reservation, for 25 Native youth who were named UNITY Earth Ambassadors last summer.
Grand Canyon West is the site of the world famous Skywalk, a horseshoe-shaped cantiléver bridge with a glass walkway near the Colorado River on the edge of a side canyon in the Grand Canyon. The Hualapai Tribe developed the area, which includes tourist experiences at two scenic areas and a stop at the Hualapai Ranch. An estimated 5,000 to 6,000 tourists, mostly foreign, visit Grand Canyon West every day.
The UNITY Earth Ambassadors, who were joined by a handful of Hualapai youth, stayed at the Hualapai Ranch. They participated in team building activities and action planning sessions designed to prepare them for Earth Day projects in April. In addition, the Earth Ambassadors listened to presentations offered by Hualapai tribal and community leaders about the Grand Canyon and cultural preservation efforts. Presenters and speakers included Hualapai Chairwoman Sherry Counts, Grand Canyon Resort Corporation COO Rory Majenty, Hualapai elder Lucille Watahomigie, Hualapai Youth Services Coordinator Pete Imus and Juanita Toledo, Jemez, UNITY Trainer/Facilitator.
Part of the UNITY Earth Ambassador’s action planning included the group identifying and recommending ways that communities could start taking immediate action to protect mother earth. Ideas and discussions included:
- Have recycling bins in obvious places for people to properly discard items
- Have composite bins
- Install solar paneling
- Have water stations as opposed to water bottles
- Put lights on timers
- Take shorter showers
- Have bicycles available for people to use to cut down on motor vehicle pollution
- Have more walking trails
Earth Ambassadors also enjoyed outdoor activities such as helicopter and pontoon rides, horseback riding and of course, a visit to the Skywalk. The UNITY Earth Ambassadors Leadership Program is an environmental stewardship program funded in part by the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community, Casey Family Programs and the Hualapai Nation.
The UNITY Earth Ambassadors Leadership Program is a 9-month program designed to increase knowledge of environmental issues affecting Native America, learn to serve as an ambassador to increase awareness of the issues affecting the environmental quality on Native lands, and promote the efforts to address environmental concerns within the nation’s Native communities. Discussion topics will focus on, but not limited to, recycling, conservation, regeneration, and restoration.
For some of the UNITY Earth Ambassadors, the experience was an opportunity to bond with their peers and enjoy nature. “I felt that I connected more with Mother Earth because living in an urban area like me, you get caught up in city life, in school and socially. So I felt that I have learned many new things to improve my connection to Earth,” said Nadira Mitchell, 14, Navajo, of Tucson, Arizona.
Others noticed the lack of environmental sustainability efforts. “I’ve had a wonderful time here at Grand Canyon West, learning all about the traditions and great powerful people here. Although there aren’t a lot of environmental friendly resources here, there is always room for change,” said Leticia Gonzales, 18, Bishop Paiute of Bishop, California.
“We were so pleased to host the UNITY Earth Ambassadors. Programs that teach our young people to respect and preserve Mother Earth are valuable and necessary. We support environmental stewardship and here at Grand Canyon West, we pledge to do our part to protect our sacred lands,” said Rory Majenty, Grand Canyon Resort Corporation Chief Operating Officer.
“What a great and unique experience that was had by all our UNITY Earth Ambassadors,” said Mary Kim Titla, Executive Director of UNITY. “The youth were challenged physically, mentally and spiritually, with all rising to the occasion. We are grateful to the Hualapai Tribe and the Grand Canyon Resort Corporation for their hospitality and support of our Native youth leaders,” added Titla.
The 2015 class of the UNITY Earth Ambassadors Leadership Program includes:
• Henry Birk Albert (Koyukon Athabaskan)
• Kristine Baker (Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians)
• SuSun Fisher (Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians)
• Mariah Gladstone (Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma)
• Wyatte Goggles (Eastern Shoshone)
• Kenaba Hatathlie (Navajo)
• Jessica McCool (Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians)
• Xavier Medina (Pascua Yaqui)
• Nadira Mitchell (Navajo)
• Ryan Stiffarm (San Carlos Apache/Acoma/Gros Ventre)
• Rory Wheeler (Seneca Nation of Indians)
• Tomas WhiteAntelope (Northern Arapaho/Lummi)
• Erica Woody (Navajo)
Honorary Earth Ambassadors include the National UNITY Council Executive Committee:
• Male Co-President – Brian Weeden (Mashpee Wampanoag)
• Female Co-President – Sassamin Weeden (Mashpee Wampanoag)
• Northwest Representative– Teressa Baldwin (Inupiaq)
• Pacific Representative– Leticia Gonzales (Bishop Paiute)
• Rocky Mountain Representative – Shoshanna Miller (Northern Arapaho)
• Western Representative– Lisa Chavez (Ak-Chin Indian Community)
• Southwestern Representative– Kenaba Hatahlie (Navajo)
• Great Plains Representative– Alexandria Crawford (Ft. Peck Dakota)
• Southern Plains Representative– Sophie Tiger (Comanche Tribe of Oklahoma)
• Midwest Representative– Darien Carley (Lac Courte Oreilles)
• Southeast Representative– Halona Benjamin (Lumbee)
• Northeast Representative– Keturah Peters (Mashpee Wampanoag)
The newly selected ambassadors were nominated by a member of their community, meeting criteria that included demonstrating leadership potential, showing an interest in protecting the environment, and experience and participation in community service projects. The next class of UNITY Earth Ambassadors will be selected in 2017.
UNITY Earth Ambassadors will promote their final Earth Day projects. Final reports will be publicized on UNITY’s website later this spring.