2014 National UNITY Conference News
The following story is from a July 15 UNITY News Release.
More than 1,400 Native youth leaders converge
in Portland, Oregon for the National UNITY Conference
The National UNITY Council, made up of youth representatives from affiliated youth councils, hosted the proceedings, as they were responsible for developing the agenda, which tackles various youth issues in Indian country. Native youth face similar challenges as all American youth but statistics show the issues such as suicide, drug abuse, teen pregnancy, and high school drop out rate are dangerously amplified. Once the conference was called to order after the ceremonial lighting of the UNITY Fire, youth were immersed in leadership development through educational keynotes, activities, and workshops focusing on the areas of spiritual, physical, social, and mental development.
Unique to this year’s conference was the addition of the inaugural UNITY 25 Under 25 Youth Leadership Awards ceremony (selection announced in early June), designed to celebrate the achievements of Native American and Alaskan Native youth ages 14 to 24 who embody UNITY’s core mission and exude living a balanced life developing their spiritual, mental, physical and social well-being. A list of the 25 Under 25 honorees and their bios can be found at https://unityinc.org/index.php/native-youth/25-under-25.
Also unique to this year’s conference was an Informational Session announcing UNITY’s four-year cooperative agreement with the US Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) to plan and implement the National Intertribal Youth Leadership Development Initiative. The Initiative also known as “Today’s Native Leaders” is designed to offer regional and national trainings and learning opportunities for American Indian youth to increase positive outcomes in their school, community and family environments.
Additional highlights of the event include keynote speakers such as Brian Cladoosby, President of the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) and Chairman of the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community, Louisville Cardinals senior guard Jude Schimmel, a citizen of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Tribe, the 1491s comedy group, renowned author Sherman Alexie, and S. Amanda Marshall, District of Oregon U.S. Attorney. Northwest tribes including the Confederate Tribe of Grand Ronde, the Yakama Swan Dancers, the Quinault Tribal Youth, the Confederated Tribes of Umatilla Indians, the Confederate Tribes of Siletz Indian, and the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs shared special cultural presentations.
This year UNITY youth had the privilege of visiting the Nike World Headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon, where the team of the N7 brand led youth in various fitness activities in addition to sharing inspirational words and career advice for excelling at top companies like Nike while keeping their Native communities in mind. In the words of first-time UNITY conference participant and 25 Under 25 Honoree TaNeel Real Bird, “Nike N7 Day really proved that physical health is a huge part of an individuals spiritual well-being and balance. It was exciting to be at the Nike World Headquarters training next to accomplished athletes, successful N7 employees, and knowledgeable physical trainers, while also learning traditional indigenous games, physical discipline, and your own individual strength!”
During the conference youth representatives of affiliated youth councils gathered as the National UNITY Council for their annual business meeting to elect new officers, known as the Executive Committee. Brian Weeden, 21, Mashpee Wampanoag, is the new male Co-President and Sarah Scott, 20, Lummi Nation, is the new female Co-President. They will work over their one-year term with the 10 regional representatives, who are listed below:
Sydnee Kopke, 17, Saginaw Chippewa, Midwest Region Representative
Sassamin Weeden, 20, Mashpee Wampanoag, Northeast Region Representative
Hamilton Seymour, 15, Nooksack, Northwest Region Representative
Dominique Lombardi, 21, Morongo Band of Mission Indians, Pacific Region Representative
Claullen Tillman, 19, Eastern Shoshone, Rocky Mountains Region Representative
Jacob Long, Eastern Band Cherokee, Southeast Region Representative
Sequoia Obe, 20, Alabama-Coushatta, Southern Plains Region Representative
Alex Toledo, 19, Jemez Pueblo, Southwest Region Representative
Julian Juan, 22, Tohono O’Odham, Western Region Representative
For 38 years the National UNITY Conference has brought Native Youth Leaders to cities all across the United States to participate in a drug and alcohol free setting. The youth led five-day conference includes a packed agenda with motivational messages, team-building exercises, health and fitness activities, a cultural exchange and talent show, workshops, celebration banquet and dance, and closing commitment ceremony as the UNITY fire is extinguished. The next UNITY gathering will be the at the UNITY Midyear Conference, February 11 – 15, 2015 at the Hyatt Regency Crystal City in Washington, DC. For more information, please visit the UNITY website at www.unityinc.org.