On Monday, December 30, the grand opening of the new headquarters office for United National Indian Tribal Youth (UNITY) took place in downtown Mesa. The move to Arizona marks the start of a new journey for UNITY, which had been based in Oklahoma for the last 37 years.
According to the organization’s Web site, the UNITY mission is “to foster the spiritual, mental, physical and social development of American Indian and Alaska Native youth and to help build a strong, unified and self-reliant Native America through greater youth involvement.”
An open house and various festivities took place throughout the day. Two separate programs were held, at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Some keynote speakers included Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community President Diane Enos, Gila River Indian Community Governor Gregory Mendoza, Arizona Congresswoman Ann Kirkpatrick, Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation Vice-President Bernadette Burnette, City of Mesa Councilman Christopher Glover and 2013 Grammy nominee Radmilla Cody.
Throughout the day, the youth in attendance listened to words of inspiration from Native leaders across Indian Country, toured the new UNITY offices and the opportunity to unite as one.
“You’re going to be fighting for the rights that our ancestors fought for. You need to make sure that your leadership, the skills that you’re building now, you feed with your compassion, love and commitment. This is what is going to take you so much further. I see future leaders and youth that will bring us hope in the future,” said Arizona State Rep. Jamescita Peshlakai (Navajo) to the youth in the audience.
In keeping with its mission, UNITY has worked to develop leadership skills in American Indian and Alaska Native youth for 37 years. The Web site states, “UNITY began through the efforts of J.R. Cook, a Cherokee from Oklahoma, who has worked with Native youth in leadership development for more than three decades. The organization grew from a small group of interested Native youth in southwestern Oklahoma in 1976 to a national organization today, with more than 140 affiliated youth councils operating in 31 states and Canada.” These youth councils represent thousands of Native American youth.
Elected representatives for UNITY from different parts of the country attended the grand opening in Mesa. “You really feel at home when you’re with UNITY,” said Cielo Garcia (Lakota/Rosebud Sioux), the UNITY Pacific Region Representative, from Riverside, California.
“I like being in Arizona. I understand why they wanted to move [the headquarters] here. I think it’s a good location and it’ll get a lot of attraction here,” said Sassamin Weeden (Mashpee/Wampanoag) of Massachusetts, UNITY Northeast Area Representative and secretary of the UNITY Executive Committee.
With California and New Mexico being very active in UNITY, the new Arizona location for UNITY headquarters will be able to serve more Indian tribes.
California, New Mexico and Arizona have about 17 UNITY youth councils each.
“UNITY will not only benefit the youth here in Arizona, but it will also benefit youth who are in nearby states. What this does for the youth councils is it allows them to have more access, and we will have more access, to the Native youth in this region. Access has always been a challenge in the past because of location. We always felt like our Oklahoma City office was in a central location, but we believe being here in Arizona is being in the heart of Indian Country,” said UNITY Executive Director Mary Kim Titla (San Carlos Apache).
“What makes us unique is the building and the training rooms we have [in the new offices]. We can now bring people here to provide leadership training, and the youth don’t have to travel so far,” said Titla.
For more information about UNITY, visit www.unityinc.org or call (602) 339-2641.