More than 250 youth and advisors engaged in four days of advocacy and action planning training during the 2018 UNITY Midyear Conference held recently in Tempe, Arizona. Trainers and peer leaders utilized a proven UNITY curriculum to challenge youth and advisors to come up with youth-led community service projects as a way to address social issues in their communities. UNITY’s National UNITY Council Executive Committee and UNITY Earth Ambassadors served as peer leaders who helped to facilitate sessions, serve as speakers and lead workshops.
Native youth, representing dozens of tribes around the country, teamed up with their peers to identify pressing social issues. Focus group discussions included how to best address issues including but not limited to suicide, substance abuse, lack of jobs, bullying, domestic violence, and health issues such as diabetes. Action plans included developing priorities, objectives, budget, tasks, and a timeline. Youth groups developed action plans for various projects including a youth conference, community dinner, community awareness event, Red Ribbon week activities and more.
Trainer Robert Johnston, Muscogee Creek/Choctaw, challenged the youth on the last day of the conference to put their plans to use. “Answer the call of your ancestors and step it up. Make it happen! No matter who you are, you’re going home with a plan of action. If you came with 5, 6, 7 members of your youth council, you’re going home with 5, 6, 7 plans of action. There’s no excuse. All you have to do is make it happen. You’re going home to bring balance and positive action to your people. That’s it. That’s your whole entire purpose here. That’s why you came. That’s why you’re funded. That’s why this conference was put together. All you have to do is commit to what you said you were going to do,” Johnston said.
Arizona State Representative Eric Descheenie, Arizona Representative Isela Blanc, Yavapai Apache Chairwoman Jane Winiecki, and former Presidential appointee Henry Lozano participated in a panel about the importance of youth advocacy. Other conference highlights included daily team building exercises, cultural sharing, a Mr. and Miss UNITY mock pageant and a best Indian joke contest.
“Midyear was a success due to the countless hours of preparation from the UNITY staff, Executive Committee, and this year’s Earth Ambassadors. The youth that were in attendance loved every minute of it, and that’s what makes UNITY so great. It’s the feelings that are exchanged at the conference, whether you’re networking with someone from across the country or getting to know someone from your tribe better by attending a leadership conference like UNITY together. The UNITY Midyear Conference sets the tone for the National Conference, which is set for San Diego, California, July 5 – 9. I’m excited about how successful the Midyear conference was,” said Hamilton Seymour, Nooksack/,Stz’ umimus First Nation, Co-President of the National UNITY Council.