The Numbers Are In: National UNITY Conference Breaks Attendance Record
1,800 attendees represented more than 200 tribes and Indigenous communities; traveled from 40 states, New Zealand, Taiwan and Canada
July 27, 2015 – Mesa, AZ – The nation’s oldest and largest Native American and Alaska Native youth organization, the United National Indian Tribal Youth, Inc. (UNITY), held its 39th annual national conference July 10-14, 2015 in Washington DC with a record breaking turnout, the largest participation in its conference history. More than 1,800 attendees converged at the nation’s Capital representing over 200 tribes and Indigenous communities; traveling from more than 40 states and internationally from New Zealand, Taiwan and Canada. Participants at the annual youth and leadership-focused conference were immersed into a five-day agenda that included: internationally renowned speakers and trainers; physical fitness activities led by Nike N7; and youth-led discussions and initiatives.
Keynote speakers kept in tandem with the conference theme, Strengthening Self-Identity; Defining the “U” in UNITY. The Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan brought a message of empowerment, telling youth “You can see beyond eyes and you can hear beyond ears when you are wide awake spiritually. That’s what your ancestors had, and that is what you and I must attain again.”
Leroy Not Afraid (Crow Nation) addressed the teen suicide epidemic, reflecting on his own family’s tragedy when his 11-year old daughter took her own life in the fall of 2014 due to alleged bullying at school. “You may not be a person of prayer, maybe not an evangelist or shaman, or a spiritual leader, that does not matter. What matters is your attitude, character and how we treat others is where we make a difference.” Not Afraid continued, “You are powerful, you are awesome, and you can make your dreams come true. No matter what gets in your way, you are the decision maker, no matter what comes to you, challenges come at you, reach upwards.” Following his poignant keynote address, the UNITY Executive Committee announced the organization’s suicide prevention day was being renamed the “I Will Live” initiative. “What we want to do with this campaign is make sure that each of you know and feel that power inside of you. Be good relatives to one another. Treat people with respect. Come together. We are the change we want to see,” said Sarah Scott (Lummi Nation), the 2014-2015 National UNITY Council Co-President.
Amongst keynote highlights included words shared by actor Adam Beach (Saulteaux), Jackie Blackbird (Gros-Ventre/Assiniboine) of Nike N7, Suzan Harjo (Cheyenne and Hodulgee Muscogee), recipient 2014 Presidential Medal of Freedom, and youth motivational speaker, Chance Rush (Hidatsa/Arapaho).
The conference boasted 41 workshops for attendees to choose from, ranging in categories that included education, career, leadership, environment, culture, and health and wellness. Topics included: What’s Your Super Power?: Overcoming Obstacles and Building Resiliency; Native Like Water: Culture, Science, Health in a Time of Global Climate Change; The Social Determinants of Health: A Framework for Youth-Driven Action to Improve Community Health and Well-Being; and Careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM): From a Native Perspective. Participating workshop presenters ranged from UNITY youth councils to organizations including the National Indian Education Association, National Indian Health Board, Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, Today’s Native Leaders, Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and the American Indian College Fund.
A conference favorite, the UNITY Celebration Banquet, took place on the last evening of the conference with the announcement and presentation of the newly elected UNITY Executive Committee and the 2015/2016 UNITY Earth Ambassadors. Another first in its conference and organization’s history, a brother and sister were elected to represent the National UNITY Council as co-Presidents.
2015/2016 UNITY Executive Committee
- Male Co-President – Brian Weeden (Mashpee Wampanoag)
- Female Co-President – Sassamin Weeden (Mashpee Wampanoag)
- Northwest – Teressa Baldwin (Inupiaq)
- Pacific – Leticia Gonzales (Bishop Paiute)
- Rocky Mountain – Shoshanna Miller (Northern Arapaho)
- Western – Lisa Chavez (Ak-Chin Indian Community)
- Southwestern – Kenaba Hatahlie (Navajo)
- Great Plains – Alexandria Crawford (Ft. Peck Dakota)
- Southern Plains – Sophie Tiger (Comanche Tribe of Oklahoma)
- Midwest – Darien Carley (Lac Courte Oreilles)
- Southeast – Halona Benjamin (Lumbee)
- Northeast – Keturah Peters (Mashpee Wampanoag)
2015/2016 UNITY Earth Ambassadors
In addition to the newly elected Executive Committee, 13 additional individuals were selected to represent UNITY as Earth Ambassadors:
- 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)
UNITY Scholarship winners, and the UNITY Alumni and Advisor of the Year were also announced during the celebration banquet. Jasmyne Jack (Muscogee Creek) and Teressa Baldwin (Inupiaq Eskimo) both received $1,000 UNITY scholarships. Jasmyne is part of the Myskoke Youth Council and will be attending Oklahoma State University Institute of Technology in Okmulgee, Oklahoma. Teressa is part of the Qikiktagruk Inupiaq Youth Council and will be attending the University of California in San Diego, California. UNITY honored SleepyEye LaFramboise (Sisseton-Wahpeton Dakota Oyate & Tonawanda Seneca) with the Alumni of the Year award. SleepyEye has been UNITY’s Fire Keeper since 1993; a significant role at the national conference each year. The Advisor of the Year was awarded to Consuela Richardson (Haliwa-Saponi) of North Carolina. Consuela has served as advisor of the North Carolina Native American Youth Organization (NCNAYO) for the past 10 years.
Sponsors of the 2015 National UNITY Conference included a variation of tribes, organizations/corporations, and private donations. Major sponsors included San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, Ak-Chin Indian Community, Bank of America, Casey Family Programs, Nike N7, Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian, Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community, Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation, Comcast NBC Universal, and the National Education Association.
UNITY has announced the locations of its 2016 and 2017 national conferences. The 40th anniversary will mark UNITY’s return to its founding hometown roots of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma in July of 2016 and will then move to Denver, Colorado in the summer of 2017. Customized title and major sponsorship opportunities for the 2016 national conference are now available. Projected attendance for the 2016 national conference is expected to exceed 2,000 participants.
Conference pictures are now available HERE. More are being added, so check back soon.