Four members of the Young River People’s Council from the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community traveled to Washington, D.C., for the United National Indian Tribal Youth (UNITY) mid-year conference, which ran from February 26 through March 2. For the majority of the youth council members, it was their first time traveling to the nation’s capital.
The students on the trip were Ramon Lopez, Heaven Villalpando, Kaily Toney and Jacob Willeford. Each student required a minimum 2.5 GPA to attend the conference.
A frigid 27-degree temperature greeted the young men and women as they stepped off the plane. They quickly zipped up their coats and put on their hats and gloves. They weren’t in the desert anymore!
They checked into their hotel rooms and made their way down to the W Hotel, where they were invited to have dinner with SRPMIC President Diane Enos and former president Ivan Makil. Enos and Makil spoke to the group at length and encouraged the students to soak up as much of the experience as possible.
Enos was excited to hear from the Young River People’s Council as they talked about their goals and future plans.
“I’m really glad you made it out here to be in Washington and to see a place outside of the Community,” said Enos. “Take this experience back with you and share it with others so that the experience doesn’t end with you. You are the future of the Community, and it’s up to you and other young people like you to become the leaders and keep what we have started going for our people.”
Later on in the evening, the group rejoined other UNITY attendees for the opening session and watched a cultural presentation from the Mashpee Wampanoag Youth Council from Massachusetts. The UNITY mid-year conference is an opportunity for members of tribal youth councils across the country to come together, network, hear about what other groups are doing in their respective communities and vote on official UNITY business regarding the annual conference, which is scheduled to be in Portland, Oregon, later this year.
“As youth council members we are very fortunate to attend conferences such as this and to have leaders (like President Enos and former president Makil) who do so much for the betterment of our Community,” said Toney. “I loved attending the executive meeting where we discussed what WE WANT to see happen at this year’s national conference. Many students don’t realize that these opportunities with the Young River Peoples Council are right in front of them, why not take it?”
This mid-year conference included workshops, guest speakers, team-building exercises, cultural exchanges and a day set aside to visit Capitol Hill, meeting senators and representatives from their state and seeing some of the historical sites, including the National Mall, the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial and of course the White House.
“It was a good experience. I got to meet a lot of new people, and (my friendships) with the other council members have gotten closer,” said Villalpando.
The youth council members toured the U.S. Capitol before meeting Senator Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and got a private tour from Congressman David Schweikert’s (R-Ariz.) congressional aide before meeting with Schweikert in the afternoon.
For the four members of the Young River People’s Council, it was a trip of a lifetime and won’t be forgotten soon. Parents, like Pila Lopez, mother of Ramon Lopez, encourages other parents to get their children involved with the Young River Peoples Council.
“Since my son has been in Youth Council from the fall of 2013, he has been exposed to many positive experiences and has more awareness of his Community that he didn’t have before,” said Lopez.