Dancing with my Siletz Sisters
UNITY Peer Guide Savanna Rilatos, Confederated Tribes of Siletz, OR, shared how she was able to give back to her community in a meaningful way: “Serving as Miss Siletz was such a rewarding experience, I represented my people, my community, my family, my culture, and my traditions. I was able to travel around the United States representing my tribe with two of the most inspiring and courageous girls I know, Junior Miss Jocelyn Hernandez and my Little Miss Sahaylee Mason. Holding this title was something I dreamed of growing up, and I am proud of myself for having the courage to go after it.”
As a UNITY Peer Guide, Rilatos holds an youth advisory role for the Healing Indigenous Lives Initiative, made possible by a cooperative agreement (2018-TY-FX-K002) between UNITY, Inc. and the US Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. UNITY, with its trainers, Peer Guides, and mentors will offer regional trauma-informed youth leadership development trainings over the next two-years. These peer led asset mapping, youth advocacy and movement building workshops will collect Native youth feedback, from those who have been impacted by trauma and the Juvenile Justice system.
Rilatos shared her experience attending her tribes Nesika Illahee Powwow, where she danced with her sisters and nieces for the first time since they were kids. Research shows those who have strong cultural ties and strong sense of belonging are significantly less likely to partake in risky behaviors. Rilatos is a strong prevention advocate, which can be seen as she passed on the title of Miss Siletz to the next generation of female youth leaders.
“In my outgoing speech I said “Miss Siletz holds a lot of power and can change the lives of our youth, specifically our tribal girls. I knew that they deserved a Miss Siletz, and I’m proud that I was able to hold the title and represent my family, and my community proudly even just for this small period of time. If any of you out there feel the same way as I did, I’m here to tell you that you can do it. You can conquer the world and make it your own. I want to encourage our girls to be their best selves everyday. I want them to know that no dream is too big or out of their reach. They are compassionate, unique, and monumental. Every one of them is a living, breathing example of victory against colonialism and genocide. They are their ancestors wildest dreams. Every one of them could be tribal royalty, we just have to believe in them, encourage them, and push them to believe in themselves. I hope that this year, I have made every single one of you proud and that I inspired at least one young girl to go after her dreams, and maybe even compete for one of our three titles.”
I am so blessed to have held this title alongside beautiful, resilient, and proud Siletz girls who remind me everyday what a good day it is to be Indigenous, and I am moved by these powerful girls up here running for titles this year. I wish you all the best of luck.
Thank you for this opportunity, it was an absolute honor to be your Miss Siletz.”
Dancing with my sisters, and my nieces, was such a powerful and moving experience. I haven’t helped my sisters dressed down since we were kids, and my nieces have never danced before. I want to bring my whole family together, and get us all more involved in our culture, ceremonies, and traditions so that we can continue practicing our ways as Siletz people and pass it on to future generations.
Savanna Rilatos is 21 years old and a proud member of the Confederated Tribes of Siletz. Her tribal bands are Galice Creek, Molalla, and Yamhill. She currently attends Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island and will graduate in 2020 with degrees in Political Science and Ethnic Studies with a focus in Native/Indigenous Studies. She is applying to the 5th year Masters or Art (MAT) in teaching for the fall of 2020, and then wants to go on to law school to eventually pursue a career in law and or policy. She is a 2016 Gates Millennium Scholar, served as her tribes 2018/2019 Miss Siletz, and was selected as a member of UNITY’s 2018 Class of 25 under 25 awardees.
Over the next two years, as part of the UNITY Peer Guide Cohort, Rilatos will spearhead this initiative in order to support and enhance Native youth engagement, coordination, and action related to public safety issues, with a focus on cultural prevention approaches to wellness in Indian country. Each one of the Peer Guides were chosen based on their personal testimonies of overcoming adversity and helping lift up others. For More Information, or to request a Peer Guide participate in a regional youth training, contact Program Manager LorenAshley Buford at [email protected], [email protected] or Call UNITY National Headquarters: 480-718-9793