Scroll Top

UNITY’s First-Ever Virtual Conference Inspires Native Youth from Across the Country

The annual leadership event featured speakers including Congresswomen Deb Haaland (New Mexico) and Sharice Davids (Kansas), recording artists Jewel, Taboo from the Black Eyed Peas, Radmilla Cody, filmmaker Kyle Bell and more.

July 27, 2020 – Mesa, AZ – Native American youth from urban and rural communities across the nation gathered for United National Indian Tribal Youth’s (UNITY) first-ever virtual national conference. Through three online gatherings held June 25, July 9, and July 23, Native youth and tribal leaders came together for cultural sharing, education, awards, music, and celebration relating to the conference theme “Healing Starts Here.” For 44 years, UNITY has offered essential support to Native American and Alaska Native youth, ages 14-24, through various programming opportunities, instilling a foundation for youth leaders and advocates to activate and build upon being positive change agents in their communities.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has presented many challenges to our communities, so our theme of ‘Healing Starts Here’ was particularly meaningful for this year’s conference,” said Mary Kim Titla, UNITY Executive Director. “While we had hoped to meet in person, the virtual conference ended up being a wonderful alternative. We learned so much from this experience, and were able to incorporate some of our important traditions while creating new memories that will make a lasting impact.”

More than 1,100 registrants participated in the UNITY Virtual Conferences, representing 228 tribal and indigenous communities from across 41 states and Canada. UNITY youth favorites like Master of Ceremonies Chance Rush, DJ Marcus Guinn (aka emcee one), UNITY Drum and UNITY Fire returned for the virtual conference, and attendees heard from many prestigious presenters. Speakers included the country’s first two Native American congresswomen, Deb Haaland of New Mexico and Sharice Davids of Kansas; award-winning artists, actors and singers like Taboo, Takana Means, Jewel, Bunky Echo-Hawk, Radmilla Cody, and Kyle Bell, entrepreneur, and author, Alyssa London; and Native youth leaders like Anthony Tamez-Pochel, Rory Wheeler, Lexie James, and Cheyenne Kippenberger.

Attendees were able to participate in online workshops, a college and career expo, and live discussions on timely subjects like “Black Lives Matter – How it Resonates with Native Americans,” moderated by Juanita Toledo. Through the Cultural Exchange and a “Music is My Medicine” virtual concert, which featured Native youth instrumentalists and vocalists, Native youth participants were able to share their talents.

Also, on Thursday, July 16, a special session was held where Native youth leaders from UNITY participated in a congressional forum led by Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.), chair of the Subcommittee for Indigenous Peoples of the United States. The subject of the hearing is Native Youth Perspectives on Mental Health and Healing. The youth leaders discussed the mental health impacts facing Native youth in the United States, education and safety, and ideas on how policy can reduce trauma and promote healing.

UNITY’s key leadership training team included Robert Johnston, Chance Rush, Juanita Toledo, Lovina Louie, and emcee one/Marcus Guinn.

During the conference, several awards were presented, including winners of the business plan competition, sponsored by the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development (NCAIED) and the American Indigenous Business Leaders (AIBL). The winners were:

  • 1st Place: Montana State University Chapter of AIBL (Turtle Mountain Tales)
  • 2nd Place: Osni Ponca Youth Council of Nebraska (Murdered and Missing Indigenous Relatives 5K)
  • 3rd Place: University of Alaska Fairbanks Native Alaskan Business Leaders (ENA Southwest Contracting)Also, UNITY’s Council of Trustees presented the following awards:
  • Golda Cook $1,000 Memorial Scholarships presented in partnership with the American Indian Graduate Center (AIGC):
    Greyson Palmer (Cherokee Nation)
    Rebecca Whitney (Kiowa Indian Tribe of Oklahoma)
  • UNITY Youth Council of the Year:
    Klamath Tribes Youth Council
  • J.R. Cook Youth Advisor of the Year:
    Carlene Bullock, Advisor, Alabama-Coushatta Inner Voice Youth Council
  • Eddie Wadda Alumni of the Year:
    Harlan McKosato (Sac and Fox Nation of Oklahoma), awarded posthumously

The 2020 National UNITY Virtual Conference sponsors included The San Manuel Band of Mission Indians (presenting sponsor), with major support from Bank of America, Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community, Gila River Broadcasting Corp., Arizona State University’s Office of American Indian Initiatives and Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, Common Counsel Foundation, The National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, Whiteskunk Accounting & Consulting, LLC, Comcast NBCUniversal, San Carlos Apache Tribe, Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians, Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, MHA – Three Affiliated Tribes, Phoenix Suns Charities, Chickasaw Nation, National Indian Health Board, Titan, American Indian Business Leaders and the Seminole Tribe of Florida.

To watch the 2020 UNITY Virtual Conference general sessions, click here.


Founded in 1976, United National Indian Tribal Youth, Inc. (UNITY) is a national network organization promoting personal development, citizenship, and leadership among Native Youth. UNITY’s mission is to foster the spiritual, mental, physical, and social development of American Indian and Alaska Native youth ages 14 -24 and help build a strong, unified, and self-reliant Native America through greater youth involvement. UNITY’s network currently includes 320 affiliated youth councils in 36 states. Youth Councils are sponsored by Tribes, Alaska Native villages, high schools, colleges, urban centers, and others.

Featured speakers included:
National UNITY Council Co-Presidents Robert Scottie Miller and Brittany McKane.
Presenting Sponsor, San Manuel Band of Mission Indians.
Ken Ramirez, Chairman
DJ emcee one / Marcus Guinn
Session 1 Keynote Speaker:  U.S. Congresswoman Deb Haaland.
Session 1 Keynote Speaker:  U.S. Congresswoman Sharice Davids.
Session 1 Keynote Speaker:  Tatanka Means
Session 1 UNITY Youth Virtual Co-Hosts:  Bianca Hernandez and Caleb Dash
Session 2 Keynote Speaker:  Taboo
Session 2 Keynote Speaker:  Bunky Echo-Hawk
Session 2 Keynote Speaker:  Kyle Bell
Session 2 Keynote Speaker:  Cheyenne Kippenberger, Miss Indian World
Session 2 Keynote Speaker:  Lexie James, Miss Native America USA
Session 3 Black Lives Matter – How it Resonates with Native Americans Panel:  Juanita Toledo (top left), Mona Scott (top right), Anthony Tamez-Pochel (bottom left), and Tomasina Chupco (not pictured)
Session 2 UNITY Youth Virtual Co-Hosts:  Kennise McGertt and Sareya Taylor
Session 3:  UNITY Fire, Hunter Genia
Session 3 Keynote Speaker:  Kevin Allis, National Congress of American Indians
Session 3 Keynote Speaker:  Radmilla Cody
Session 3 Keynote Speaker:  Jewel
Session 3 Keynote Speaker:  Alyssa London
Session 3 All-Star Trainers:  Chance Rush (top left), Juanita Toledo (top right), Lovina Louie (bottom left), Robert Johnston (bottom right)
Session 3 First Responders Panel discuss COVID-19:  Rory Wheeler (top left), Dr. Pearl Yellowman (top right), Kamellia Fall Kellywood (bottom)
Session 3 Music is My Medicine Virtual Concert participant:  Adrian Thomas
Session 3 Cultural Showcase participant:  Tanisha Beesto
Session 3 Ribbon Skirt Making:  Tala Tootoosis
Session 3 Co-Hosts (left to right):  Rudy Pina, Abby Rush, Giselle Richards, and Chance Rush