UNITY Holds Annual Midyear Conference – UNITY, Inc.

UNITY Holds Annual Midyear Conference


Native Youth Gather for Learning and Collaboration 

The 2020 UNITY Midyear Conference, held February 14-17 in Tempe, Arizona, brought together more than 450 Native American and Alaska Native youth and advisors from rural and urban tribal communities across the U.S. for four days of learning, cultural sharing, and collaboration. The focus of this year’s conference was on healing, and strengthening Native youth identity and sense of belonging. Importantly, UNITY affiliated youth councils and individuals left the conference with completed action plans for community service projects.

The conference opened with a presentation by Gila Crossing Community School Color Guard, and a cultural presentation and blessing by Phoenix Indian Center’s F.I.N.A.L Youth Council. A special welcome was given by Gila River Indian Community’s Governor Stephen R. Lewis. In addition, UNITY’s Peer Guide Leaders challenged attendees on the first day to discuss Native youth incarceration and to submit their feedback via texting.

Youth attendees attended “speed workshops” on topics like financial responsibility and career guidance, mental and physical health, environment, culture, and civic engagement. They also participated in YOUth Can! Curriculum training which can be used by Native youth groups to build positive action plans and design community service projects to address specific challenges within their tribe or community. All-star trainers for the YOUth Can! Curriculum included Robert Johnston (Muscogee Creek/Choctaw), Marcus Guinn (Potawatomi/Osage/Delaware/Puerto Rican), Chance Rush (Hidatsa/Dakota/Arapaho/Otoe/Oneida), and Pearl Yellowman (Navajo).

“We want Native youth to feel empowered and confident in their ability to affect positive change,” said Mary Kim Titla, UNITY Executive Director. “I am proud that UNITY continues to help our youth develop leadership skills, and enables them to learn from and be inspired by others who have made positive impacts on their communities and the world at large.”

At the Native Youth Activism Panel, attendees heard from young people who have raised awareness about important issues impacting Native communities. TaNeel Filesteel (Aaniih, Nakoda and Apsaalooke) is a senior at Salish Kootenai College, and is leading initiatives on Get Out the Vote for the 2020 presidential election. She recently delivered a TedX Talk titled Lessons from a Tribal Prosecutor, weaving poetry and storytelling into her presentation of healing. Rosalie Fish (Cowlitz) is an 18-year-old medal-winning competitive runner who has used her platform to raise awareness for missing and murdered Indigenous women. National UNITY Council’s Executive Committee Representative Anthony Tamez-Pochel (Cree and Lakota) serves his community in Chicago, working on land-based education, helping community members plant medicine gardens to maintain connection to the land, and working as an aldermanic aide for the City of Chicago, focusing on local businesses and youth projects. Last year, he drafted and submitted an ordinance calling for the abolition of Columbus Day and establishing Indigenous Peoples Day.

Additional conference highlights included a behind the scenes discussion of the Netflix series “Basketball or Nothing,” with Shaun Martin (Navajo), Chinle High School athletic director; and Chance Harvey, a member of the 2018-2019 basketball team featured in the series. In addition, UNITY’s Earth Ambassadors challenged youth to participate in UNITY Earth Day on April 22nd, a 50th anniversary event.

The final evening of the conference concluded with cultural sharing featuring special guests Miss Indian World Cheyenne Kippenberger (Seminole Tribe of Florida, UNITY Peer Guide), Miss Native American USA Lexie Michael James (Hopi), Miss Navajo Nation Shandiin Parrish, and Miss Indian Arizona Audri Mtichell (Navajo/Cheyenne, UNITY Peer Guide), and a Round Dance sponsored by the Three Affiliated Tribes of North Dakota.

Event supporters included Arizona State University – Office of American Indian Initiatives, San Carlos Apache Tribe, Bank of America, Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community, Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians, the National Education Association, ComCast NBC Universal, Mandan Hidatsa Arikara Nation, Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, Common Counsel Foundation, National Indian Health Board, Seminole Tribe of Florida, Titan Facility Services, The Chickasaw Nation, and Pascua Yaqui Tribe of Arizona. The Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University, and the Gila River Broadcasting Corp. served as partners for the communications boot camp, and UNITY partnered with the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention for the Healing Indigenous Lives Initiative.

The National UNITY Conference will take place July 3-7, 2020 in Washington, DC. In preparation for the National Conference in this important election year, midyear conference attendees watched a special video message from Rep. Debra Haaland (D-NM) about how to become effective Native youth advocates; Theresa Sheldon (Tulalip Tribes), Native American Political Director for the Democratic National Committee, and Rachel Hood (Yavapai-Apache Nation), Native American Outreach Manager Arizona Democratic Party, spoke on the importance of getting out the Native youth vote. For more information about the upcoming conference, click here.

Several youth attendees took advantage of the UNITY News Communications Boot Camp offered as a pre-conference workshop. The exclusive media training was led and hosted by The Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University, along with staff from Indian Country Today.
More than 450 Native youth and advisors participated in the 2020 UNITY Midyear Conference, making it UNITY’s largest midyear gathering to date.
The Native Youth Activism Panel raised awareness about important issues impacting Native communities. The panel included (left to right) moderator Rory Wheeler (Seneca Nation), Rosalie Fish (Cowlitz), TaNeel Filesteel (Aaniih, Nakoda and Apsaalooke), and Anthony Tamez-Pochel (Cree and Lakota)
Behind the scenes discussion of the Netflix series “Basketball or Nothing,” with Shaun Martin (Navajo) (left), Chinle High School athletic director; and Chance Harvey (Navajo) (center), a member of the 2018-2019 basketball team featured in the series.
Youth attendees attended “speed workshops” with more than 30 topics including financial responsibility and career guidance, mental and physical health, environment, culture, and civic engagement.
UNITY’s Earth Ambassadors challenged youth to participate in UNITY Earth Day on April 22nd, a 50th anniversary event.
UNITY’s all-star trainers included UNITY alumni, Chance Rush (Hidatsa/Dakota/Arapaho/Otoe/Oneida (left), and Robert Johnston (Muscogee Creek/Choctaw (right).