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Native youth unite for annual national gathering

Joelle Peters

7/16/2001 12:00:00 AM

Members of a national youth group came together to strengthen their voices at a recent conference.

Native youth from across Indian Country attended the 25th annual United National Indian Youth (UNITY) National Conference that took place June 29 to July 3 in Grand Rapids.

"The conference gave me confidence" explained Eli Borton, a member of the Shepherd High School Anishnabe Youth Council. The first time participant also stated that he enjoyed the conference and hopes to attend more in the future.

There were about 1,000 youth and advisors at the conference. UNITY has representatives from over 230 youth groups of Tribal communities and First Nations across North America.

This event has been a traditional native youth activity for several years. The conference allows teens to gather ideas on how their voices can be heard. During the conference, the youth attended workshops, which varied from learning the "rites of passage" to learning how to dance. The participants also had time to enjoy recreational and extracurricular activities such as a three-on-three basketball tournament, a dance and a variety show.

The Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe of Michigan was one of conference's many sponsors. The Tribe sent the Saginaw Ojibwe Anishnabe Youth Leadership Council of Mount Pleasant High School and the Anishnabe Youth Council of Shepherd High School. Other Tribal departments also sponsored Saginaw Chippewa youth.

Steven Manzano, a 16-year-old member of Young Natives, a youth council in Northport, stated that the conference has taught him a lot about his culture and on how other Native youth address issues in their communities. The third-year participant also stated that he would like to continue attending the conferences.

"Someday I hope to host a workshop on the drugs and alcohol issue," explained Manzano. "I would approach the issue with interactive games."

The participants from local high school youth groups had to meet certain criteria to attend the conference. The Tribal Education Department based their decision on a point system. The youth were given the opportunity to participate in community service acts that the Education Department had planned. The students that achieved the full points were given an interview by the department's staff. The interview consisted of numerous questions that helped the staff to make their decision on who qualified to attend the UNITY Conference.

Some of the conference workshops presented information on topics ranging from the "Rites of Passage" to "Let's Dance."

The Rites of Passage workshop consisted of a guest speaker who explained his passages through life and how the present Native youth should acquire what the rites of passage is. Subsequently, the speaker and the youth joined in a group discussion.

Latin music and dance lessons were the key elements of the Let's Dance workshop. There were also many other educational and informational workshops for the youth to chose from.

"It was fun," stated 15-year-old Leticia Flores, a member of the Saginaw Ojibwe Anishnabe Youth Leadership Council at Mount Pleasant High School. "I enjoyed the ´┐ŻLet's Dance' workshop the best".

Hunter Genia, Mental Health Clinical Director, attended his 11th UNITY conference this year. The first conference he took part in was in Baraga. He has been a participant in six or seven national UNITY conferences and two or three regional UNITY conferences.

"It's a good thing," stated Genia on how he feels about the youth gathering to make changes in the Native communities.

The conference also showcased three Native acts, pop singer Jana, comedian Buddy Big Mountain and Annie Humphrey, a traditional singer who recently performed at the Soaring Eagle Casino & Resort.

(Editor's note: Joelle Peters is part of the Saginaw Chippewa Summer Youth Program. This is her second year working as a member of the Tribal Observer staff. She is 15-years-old and is going into the 11th grade. Joelle is interested in possibly pursuing a career in journalism. Her parents are Theresa and Darryl Jackson.)