The Fifth Annual Men and Women’s Gathering, hosted by the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community’s Life Enhancement and Resource Network (LEARN), was held August 12-14 at Talking Stick Resort. This national conference has gained positive exposure over the past five years; this year’s event brought in a total of approximately 350 attendees, some from as far away as Chicago, Illinois.
The overall goal of the conference is to heal and strengthen Native families. Inspirational speakers, friends, colleagues and guests come together to offer advice and teach important life skills to help Native families to prosper.
Inspirational and educational speakers are invited to give keynote presentations and to lead a series of workshops on topics ranging from domestic violence and family relationships to communication skills, wellness and home keeping. Individual workshop topics included parents of preteens, family reunification/preservation, gender communication patterns/strategies, brain development, wellness, keeping your home organized, home décor, child support assistance and more. The sessions were 90 minutes long, and attendees could choose the sessions they wanted to attend.
The conference kicked off on Tuesday, August 12, with an afternoon work session, followed by a cultural exchange in which attendees performed traditional songs and dances from their respective Native tribes. The evening ended with a traditional O’odham giveaway in the resort’s main ballroom.
On Wednesday, August 13, the second day of the conference featured more activities and workshops. A blessing was offered by Community member Manuel Hurtado and opening remarks were given by SRPMIC Vice-President Martin Harvier.
“Everyone who came into contact with the O’odham [and] Piipaash people said we were a giving and a loving people. We read that in history. What changed us? What changed us as a people?” asked Harvier during his opening remarks. He continued with his insights about parenting and how poor parenting affects Native communities. He also used boarding-school discipline examples and tied that in with how baseball requires balance, just like life requires balance.
“As families, everything begins in the home. We always say our children are our future, but where are our families? Our families have to be together for our children to be the future. That’s very important, and that has always been the message.”
Harvier encouraged attendees to ask questions and reminded everyone that the conference was for the benefit of them and their families. “I know that there are parents that are trying; don’t be critical of each other. Sometimes we might not do or say the things you want us to, but work together. Work together and strive forward.”
The keynote address was given by RezHeadz founder Jason “Smoke” Nichols and his wife Melissa “Mimi” Nichols. In 2009, they lost their 12-year-old daughter to a bullying incident. Since then, they have set out to help not only Native communities, but anyone who is willing to hear their messages of inspiration, encouragement and support. Today, they are among the most influential speakers in Native America.
Nichols delivered what turned into a very emotional speech for many, especially for parents. He pinpointed various situations in his life and used them to help motivate others. He also offered advice to parents and all those in attendance about signs of bullying.
“It never gets easy. We have to turn tragedy into triumph,” said Nichols. They will continue to tell their daughter’s story to help spread awareness about not only teen bullying, but other major issues within Indian Country as well.
“There’s some very good workshops scheduled,” said elder Peggy Honahni about her first Men and Women’s Gathering. “The one I just came out of was very emotional, and I think a lot of people can benefit from this. The workshops had a lot of interesting things that we need to learn within our own communities. I think this is very good.”
“From looking at the people, we have more elderly [attendees] than younger people. It seems like they should have a mixture of both, so we all get to know more of what’s going on, not just in our Community, but in other communities too. Maybe if they tried to have it before school starts,” suggested Community member Morris Manuel. Like many others, he believed that there should be more involvement from Native youth.
The day continued with workshops and ended with a free Zumbathon in the main ballroom at Talking Stick Resort. Approximately 100 Zumba dancers enjoyed an evening workout.
Thursday, August 14, was the final day of the conference. It started off with a keynote address by Pearl Yellowman (Navajo) of the Institute of Native Development and continued with various workshops.
The session on domestic violence featured Vurlene Notsinneh-Bowekaty sharing her story of grief after losing her sister to domestic violence. One participant stated, “It was interesting, especially from her perspective with her sister. I could say that I relate in some ways. My husband and I have been married for 19 years, and he was court-ordered to take the BIP (Batterers’ Intervention Program) classes, which he just recently completed. I could really relate to what she had to say.”
“Overall, It was a very successful conference and we received a lot of great feedback. We also had some great keynote speakers, Enrique [Feldman] did a great training the first day, RezHeadz and Pearl [Yellowman] did a great job as well. We’re looking forward to next year. A lot of Communities are planning to come back. We’ll be shooting information out as early as October,” said Kevin Poleyumptewa, SRPMIC senior social worker.
Each participant was given a chance to share personal stories of resilience and to offer their insights about various topics. They were also able to ask questions about specific topics within Indian Country. This gathering continues to inspire all Native communities and families.
Next year’s Men and Women’s Gathering is set for July 21-23 at Talking Stick Resort. For more information, contact social worker II Gretchen Scott or Kevin Poleyumptewa, senior social worker, at (480) 362-2616/7551.