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CTUIR Youth Council empowers members to get involved in their community

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Whitman Wire – Written by Katherine Ellis, News Reporter

The Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation’s (CTUIR) Youth Council encourages young tribal members to improve their communities, including advocating for environmental preservation across the Pacific Northwest.

The CTUIR Youth Council is open to CTUIR members between the ages 12 to 18.  It offers youth in the CTUIR community the chance to build professional leadership skills, as members are able to run for a number of positions. These positions include chair, vice chair, treasurer and secretary. Once they are elected, members work to find topics of interest to explore amongst themselves and bring to the larger youth community.

First-year Lindsey Pasena-Littlesky is a former chair of the CTUIR Youth Council. She spoke about the topics of focus for members of the council.

“We try to introduce land history [and] introduce our own tribal history. [We] create a foundation of who they are and where they’re from,” Pasena-Littlesky said. “We also try to introduce public speaking, financial literacy and definitely the opportunity of higher education.”

Now that she has aged out of the council, Pasena-Littlesky serves as a youth advisor.

Members of the council work to address issues they identify in their community, like recycling, carbon emissions, substance abuse and physical and mental health.

“Their role is basically to be a youth advocate,” Pasena-Littlesky said. “We may have 12 members, but there’s obviously 1,200 kids in our community. The way I always see it is you kind of just talk for them; [you] talk for your friends [and] talk for your siblings.”

Julie Taylor, the Department of Children and Family Services Director and CTUIR Youth Leadership Council Advisor, shared what she finds most rewarding about her experience with the Youth Council.

“[I think the most rewarding part is] listening to their thoughts and ideas as they serve their peers and community, so they can bring them to fruition to help our community,” Taylor said.

Photo contributed by Chloe Collins.

Pasena-Littlesky’s mother, Michelle VanPelt, talked about the respect CTUIR leadership has for members of the Youth Council.

“They genuinely value them and their perspective and voice for the community,” VanPelt said.

Pasena-Littlesky reflected on her own position as a Youth Council advisor, elaborating on the work she did.

“I’m kind of creating a different role where I’m teaching them more about how to attend conferences and how to public speak,” Pasena-Littlesky said. “There are lots of conferences and events going on where the younger youth get to advocate on behalf of themselves, their experiences and their priorities.”

Pasena-Littlesky, along with her friend and fellow council member Keyen Singer, has been working on a petition which calls for a meeting with President Biden and demands that he honor his promise to restore Indigenous lands and their resources.

The petition was created by Singer after her family’s way of life was heavily impacted by dams impeding the Snake River, limiting their ability to fish for salmon. Their appeal to Biden’s administration is made with urgency, as the dams are having a detrimental impact on the river’s salmon populations.

The petition claims that “if these dams aren’t removed soon, Snake River salmon will go extinct.”

Starting with 28 signatures and the efforts of the CTUIR Youth Council, council members have been touring conferences and presenting their petition to tribes throughout the Pacific Northwest. The petition has gained over 24,300 signatures and is nearly at its goal of 25,000.

“Survival of the salmon is important to all tribes of the Northwest, so [the CTUIR leadership] were really excited to see that this was a student-led initiative,” VanPelt said.

Pasena-Littlesky and the Youth Council will continue to attend conferences and share their petition in the upcoming months.