Native Youth Gather to Discuss Advocacy and Movement Building in Tribal Communities – UNITY, Inc.

Native Youth Gather to Discuss Advocacy and Movement Building in Tribal Communities

United National Indian Tribal Youth Holds Annual Midyear Conference

Mesa, Ariz. (February 27, 2019) – The 2019 UNITY Midyear Conference, held February 15-18 in Scottsdale, Arizona, gathered more than 400 Native American and Alaska Native youth and advisor participants, representing rural and urban tribal communities from across the U.S. The core focus of the four-day conference was to train and provide a toolkit to Native youth participants – who identified the challenging societal issues impacting their respective communities – and to build advocacy and action plans to ignite conversation and change.

Led by trainers Robert Johnston (Choctaw/Muscogee Creek), Juanita Toledo (Jemez Pueblo), Marcus Guinn (Osage/Potawatomi/Delaware/Puerto Rican), Dr. Pearl Yellowman (Navajo), and UNITY staff, youth and advisors engaged in small group discussions using a 10-step approach to identifying community issues and selecting specific areas to address, determining a goal and audience, and next steps. This resulted in action plans to take back to their communities for implementation.

“Our Native youth leaders are impressive critical thinkers. They addressed concerning community issues such as bullying, drug abuse, and suicide with eloquence and forward-thinking solutions,” said Mary Kim Titla, UNITY Executive Director. “I am proud that UNITY continues to provide a platform and programming to encourage the further development of our youth’s leadership skills, and to support their journey in making a positive and impactful change in Indian country,” she added.

The conference kicked off with a special video message from U.S. Representative Sharice Davids (Ho-Chunk Nation), who acknowledged UNITY’s efforts working with and supporting Native youth for more than 40 years. She encouraged youth participants to fully immerse themselves in the midyear conference experience in order to learn from one another.

Dr. Adam Evans (Sliammon First Nation) – a former actor who portrayed Thomas Builds-a-Fire in the critically acclaimed film Smoke Signals, and now a physician in Canada – and award-winning hip hop artist, Frank Waln (Lakota), provided dynamic motivational and inspiring messages during the general assembly. They encouraged youth to embrace and consider their traditions and culture as they walk through life, and when facing adversity.

During the National UNITY Council business meeting, representatives of UNITY’s youth council network, adopted a national initiative entitled “Opportunity for Unity: Home is here,” which challenges youth councils to reach out to disconnected youth, welcome them into the UNITY family and invite them to attend the National UNITY Conference in July in Orlando, Florida.

Additional conference highlights included a Women in Leadership panel discussion with participants Cheyenne Kippenberger, who is the current Miss Seminole Tribe of Florida; JoRee LaFrance (Apsaalooke – Crow), a Dartmouth graduate and doctoral student; former Lieutenant Governor of Gila River Indian Community, Monica Antone; entrepreneur April Tinhorn (Hualapai) of Tinhorn Consulting, LLC; and Sedelta Oosahwee (Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation/Cherokee), the Senior Program/Policy Analyst/Specialist with National Education Association. Panelists encouraged the youth to follow their hearts, take risks, and not to be afraid to ask for help along their professional journeys.

The midyear event also included a special pre-conference Communications Boot Camp co-hosted by UNITY and Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. During the nearly two-day training, a dozen students learned how to use their smartphones to conduct interviews, shoot and edit videos to help tell their stories. Four news videos produced by the students were showcased during the conference.

Two special evening events included a UNITY Round Dance to honor and remember Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and girls, an initiative of the National UNITY Council Executive Committee, and a Water Ceremony conducted by Sleepyeye LaFromboise (Sisseton-Wahpeton Dakota and Tonawanda Seneca), Sheldon Smith (Navajo), and Eurick Yazzie (Navajo), offering a safe space for youth to gather, ask for prayer, and share songs.

“The Midyear Conference was very special with record attendance and the first ever public round dance in honor of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and girls; I’m honored to have witnessed it. The youth experienced in-depth advocacy training, and I applaud them, as well as the trainers for their diligence. This is the start of more movement in Indian Country. We introduced this year’s initiative, “Opportunity for Unity: Our Home is Here” to support and advocate for Native Foster youth. This year’s conference was one for the books and I look forward to seeing everyone in Florida this July,” said Joseph Davis (Akimel O’odham), National UNITY Council Executive Committee Co-President.

Event supporters included Arizona State University – Office of American Indian Initiatives, who sponsored the College and Career Expo, as well as San Carlos Apache Tribe, Freeport McMoRan, Bank of America, Tribal Tech, LLC, with additional support from WeRNative and Cook Native American Ministries Foundation. San Carlos Apache Tribe Chairman, Terry Rambler, and representatives from Tribal Tech, LLC, provided words of encouragement to conference participants and presented checks to UNITY to show their continued support.

The planning of the National UNITY Conference is underway and will take place July 4-8, 2019 at the Gaylord Palms Resort and Convention Center in Orlando, Florida. For more information about the upcoming conference and to learn more about UNITY, visit