Members of the Young River People’s Council—President Kaily Toney, Clerical Secretary Ramon Lopez, Jacob Willeford, Pretty Flower Galindo and Joli Lewis—traveled to Portland, Oregon, June 28–July 3 for the biggest gathering of Native American youth in the country, the United National Indian Tribal Youth (UNITY) conference.
This was the 38th year for the UNITY conference, and the theme was “Healing and Empowering Aspiring Leaders with Tradition and Heritage.”
The conference site of Portland brought many new opportunities for young Native leaders, including a visit to the Nike World Headquarters, where we participated in physical activities and games run by different workout coaches. Nike sponsors the N7 Fund, which supports youth sports and physical activity programs in Native communities across North America. Through these activities, the youth were able to learn the importance of sports and meet other youth and N7 team members.
Not only did we work out throughout the day, but we also were able to hear more about N7 from Sam McCracken, founder and president of Nike N7. McCracken spoke about N7 and how “It’s our (Native Americans’) brand, not Nike’s.” With N7, McCracken wants to use sports to reduce the statistics relating to obesity, suicide, drugs, alcohol and other things that negatively affect our Native communities. He asked the room full of youth, “What if sports could reduce obesity, suicide and encourage education because you have a healthy life?”
N7 introduced us to a new member of their team, basketball player Damen Bell-Holter, who comes from a small community in Alaska. Bell-Holter told the youth his life story, his passion for sports and where it led him. He wanted us to continue on with our dreams, to always be around people who will lift us up, and to see how we could help out our communities back home.
Every year, the UNITY Conference brings a different feel and atmosphere to the Native youth, who come from across the country. For some members of the Salt River YRPC group, this was their first time on a plane, and some members had never been away from home for longer than three days. Life experience is one thing that UNITY offers, and it helps the youth of Salt River see what is offered elsewhere throughout the country.
This year, we were able to meet many youth from around the country and learn how they are giving back to their communities. We also visited places that we don’t have back home, like the Multnomah Falls, where we hiked through the trees and high waterfalls. We also stopped by one of Oregon’s famous doughnut shops, Voodoo Doughnut in Portland.
Pretty Flower Galindo was one of the members who experienced UNITY for the first time, and she also represented our Community as Miss Salt River.
“I thought it was really fun and I enjoyed it,” said Galindo. “Since I’ve never been before, I didn’t really know what to expect, but now I know how it goes and also how each region gets a representative. My favorite part has to be either going to the Nike headquarters or the Culture Night, getting to see different cultures and what they do.”
As president of the Young River People’s Council, I feel it’s amazing to see how UNITY continues to grow and how many youth it takes hold of in a positive way.
This was my sixth UNITY Conference, and the movement keeps growing and expanding our opportunities. I love to see how dedicated the youth are that run for the Executive Committee and how it helps them become better leaders. I hope one day that I will be given the same opportunity to expand who I am as a leader.
I hope that in the coming years we can get more of our YRPC members to attend the conference, because it’s really inspiring and a fun environment to be in.
The Young River People’s Council would like to thank Salt River Police Department detective Vicente Cendejas and the SRPD for allowing him to chaperone us throughout the conference. We would like to thank the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community for allowing us to have this opportunity. We get to travel somewhere new and exciting each year where we get to develop new experiences, and we are truly thankful for that.