More than 1,700 registered attendees from Tribal and Indigenous communities across the Nation and Canada gather in Oklahoma City
August 8, 2016 – Mesa, AZ – Declared by State of Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin as “UNITY National Conference Days,” the United National Indian Tribal Youth, Inc. (better known as UNITY) held its annual national conference July 22-26, returning to its birthplace, Oklahoma City, to celebrate 40 years of supporting and embracing Native youth leadership. UNITY founder and former director, J.R. Cook, was on-hand, interacting with more than 1,700 registered attendees during the 5-day national conference. The agenda featured popular keynote speakers, more than 40 workshops, a youth roundtable led by the National Education Association and ESSA, fitness activities, the UNITY fire, the UNITY drum, more than 50 exhibitors, a college and career expo presented by the University of Oklahoma (OU), a cultural exchange, talent night, and the UNITY 40th anniversary celebration and awards gala.
Keynote speakers featured Olympic Gold Medalist Billy Mills (Oglala Lakota), Actor Arthur Redcloud (Navajo), Actor/Rapper/Entrepreneur and CEO of the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development, Gary “Litefoot” Davis (Cherokee), youth leadership advocate and trainer, Howard Rainer (Taos Pueblo), along with an all-star leadership training team led by Juanita Toledo (Jemez Pueblo), Beatrice “Aunt Bea” Shawanda (Wilkemikong First Nations), Chance Rush (Three Affiliated Tribes – Hidatsa), and Marcus “Emcee One” Guinn (Osage/Potowatami).
Each year, the youth leaders address many social issues impacting communities across the nation. This year “Our Sister’s Voices” was presented during the first General Assembly to address the issue of violence against women. It proved to be very moving and resulted in numerous young people speaking up about the issue, and having discussions about ways to address in communities.
Additional highlights of the 2016 conference included the official induction of UNITY’s 25 Under 25 award recipients presented by the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community, a social pow wow and stomp dance hosted by UNITY’s local planning committee, a 40th Anniversary aerial photo coordinated by UNITY alumni, morning cultural presentations by Oklahoma tribes, youth-led culturally-based fitness activities, fitness day t-shirts sponsored by Nike N7, the official launch of the the UNITY Fitness 40 application, the UNITY 3 on 3 Basketball Tournament, and an appearance by Lil Mike and FunnyBone (Pawnee rappers.)
Among the many activities and workshops, the annual National UNITY Council (NUC) Business Meeting took place where UNITY youth council members elected new leadership for 2016/2017, representing the UNITY organization as the NUC Executive Committee. The new officers were officially sworn into office at the UNITY Gala celebration on the final night of the conference. They are:
- Male Co-President – Hamilton Seymour (Nooksack Indian Tribe)
- Female Co-President – Sarah Scott (Lummi)
- Great Plains – Joshua Tuf Iron Shell (Rosebud Sioux Tribe – Sicangu Lakota)
- Midwest – Ethan Hunt (Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe)
- Northeast – Brayden Sonny White (St. Regis Mohawk)
- Northwest – SuSun Fisher (Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians)
- Pacific – Leticia Gonzales (Bishop California Paiute)
- Rocky Mountain – Vance HomeGun (Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes)
- Southeast – Halona Benjamin (Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina)
- Southern Plains – Sophie Tiger (Comanche Nation of Oklahoma)
- Southwest – Kenaba Hatathlie (Navajo)
- Western – Lance Sanchez (Tohono O’odham)
At the gala, UNITY also recognized and presented awards to:
- Golda Cook $1,000 Memorial Scholarships: Kaleena Stone (Bishop Paiute) and Shante Slender (Navajo)
- UNITY Youth Council of the Year: Muscogee (Creek) Nation Youth Council
- J.R. Cook Youth Advisor of the Year: Michael Preston (Gila River Indian Community)
- Eddie Wadda Alumni of the Year: Marty Ybarra (Ho-Chunk)
Sponsors of the 2016 National UNITY Conference included a variation of tribes, organizations/corporations, and private donors. Major sponsors included Ak-Chin Indian Community, Bank of America, Nike N7, Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community, Comcast NBCUniversal, Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation, Agual Cliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, Muscogee Nation, San Carlos Apache Tribe, Casey Family Programs, IGT, 12News/Tegna, The University of Oklahoma (OU), Desert Diamond West Valley, Yavapai-Apache Nation, The Cherokee Nation, Tule River Tribe, Cook Native Amerian Ministries, and the National Education Association.
The 2017 National UNITY Conference will take place July 7 – 11, 2017 in Denver, Colorado. On the final day of the conference, UNITY’s Executive Director, Mary Kim Titla, announced the national conference locations for 2018 and 2019. UNITY will be heading to San Diego, California in 2018 and Fort Lauderdale/Miami, Florida in 2019. Customized title and major sponsorship opportunities for the 2017 national conference are now available.
For more information about UNITY, underwriting opportunities, the UNITY Pendleton blanket offer, Bunky Echo Hawk exclusive painting, or future events and conferences, visit www.unityinc.org or call the UNITY office at (480) 718-9793.
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