|On Friday, June 6 the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community hosted the first annual Native Youth Conference at the Phoenix Marriott Mesa in Mesa, AZ. This conference was free to all Native youth ages 13 to 18 years old. Through the various sessions, group discussions and guest speakers, conference participants were able to learn about the history of SRPMIC which in return would help them to learn their identities as Native Americans.
“The intent of this conference was to [get the youth] to understand that it’s really important to know their identity and the history of their people, because without that, we’re going into the future blind. So many of our kids have lost that connection with their identity and their own spirituality; they’re confused and their lost. We wanted to give that back to them and this was our attempt in doing so,” said Lian D’Avignon, Youth Services Supervisor-After School Program.
The conference started out with an opening blessing by Council representative Ricardo Leonard and a welcome address by President Diane Enos. Thereafter, a presentation of the history of the O’odham traditional homelands was given by Roberta Carlos, SRPMIC Senior Services Director.
Upon speaking of the history, Carlos reminded youth of the importance of the land and culture. She encouraged youth to greet, honor and share valuable cultural knowledge with each other in their everyday lives. “We thrived because that’s who we are. Culture is your everyday way of life. We are the caretakers of the land. We were brought to this place to survive and to be successful.”
A reading of Congressional Testimony was given by Naelyn Pike (Chiricahua Apache) and the keynote address was given by her grandfather, Wendsler Nosie Sr. (Chiricahua Apache), San Carlos Apache Reservation Peridot District Councilman. Nosie delivered a compelling speech as he elaborated on his personal experiences and indigenous rights. He reminded youth of their importance, as they are our future as a nation.
“Your last battle is your religion. If you forget who you are, you will lose that battle,” said Nosie. “We are all related through respect. From the truth, you can heal.”
Conference participants then broke into various groups for a variety of activities throughout the day. Some of the breakout sessions included topics such as; language immersion, indigenous cultural empowerment and awareness through hip hop media, sacred rights protection, decolonization, history of Native peoples and more.
“I’m really interested in saving my culture. I grew up speaking my language and when I got older I moved away and lost it. Now I’m trying to learn about my language and culture again. Stuff like this, saving sacred lands, it means a lot to me,” said Joseph Garcia, 16 who resides within SRPMIC.
“This was very interesting. I’ve never been to one of these. This is my first time. I’m very touched with what our council member and the guest speaker said. I was shocked that he said he ran here with his family. I didn’t believe it at first, but it was very surprising to me,” said Community member Jorge Gonzales, 16. When asked about his insights about the conference, he added, “I want to help, I want to contribute to my people. Our people will fight with determination and perseverance, but we will not be defeated.”
“There’s so many bad things happening in the world, in our communities and we have such high rates of alcoholism and suicide. We felt that our way of trying to curve that was to bring [the youth back] to who they are. It’s going to be a long process, but when we all come together in good thoughts and good prayer, that’s going to make our young people stronger. Not just in SRPMIC, but as Native people everywhere. It’s not just here we face these issues, we face it everywhere. As the first people of this nation, it’s time for the healing to begin. It’s time for our young people, it’s their turn to lead us,” said D’Avignon.
“We just want to thank everyone that supported us in our efforts; the Salt River Advisory and Council on Youth, The Salt River Children’s Foundation, SRPMIC Youth Services and the SRPMIC Tribe. They saw the vision and they shared it,” said D’Avignon.