On Friday, May 29, the second annual Native Youth Identity Conference was held at Salt River High School. In attendance throughout the day and into the evening were approximately 200 youth representing various tribes and nations, including the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, the Ak-Chin Indian Community, Colorado River Indian Tribes, Gila River Indian Community, the Hopi Tribe, Jicarilla Apache Nation, Lakota Sioux Tribe, Navajo Nation, San Carlos Apache Nation, White Mountain Apache Tribe and more.
A goal noted by the SRPMIC Youth Services Department, which organized the conference, was to help youth understand their past and strive toward positively impacting the future. This was emphasized by the many examples of Native role models that shared their time and provided encouragement to the youth who participated in the conference.
The event agenda included honored guests, numerous speakers, presentations, activities and displays, all of which were focused on the theme “Unifying and Empowering Our Youth to Build Stronger Communities.” The conference was designed to empower Native youth by providing them a strong sense of who they are, with an emphasis on enriching their lives and building their self-esteem as Native people.
The emcee for the conference was Community member Martha Ludlow Martinez, Miss Indian Arizona First Attendant, who offered introductions of the honored guests and the presenters, explained the agenda topics and provided “ice-breakers” in between presenters to keep the audience engaged and energized.
Program highlights included an opening prayer given by SRPMIC Council Representative Ricardo Leonard, with SRPMIC President Delbert Ray, Sr. offering a welcome to all in attendance. Ray spoke directly to the theme of the conference when he said, “All tribes have values [that speak to the concept of] respecting parents, grandparents, people and valuing ideas of other people.” Ray shared with the youth his upbringing, and how he had to leave home at 7 years of age, how he went to Lawrence, Kansas for two years to attend college at Haskell Indian School, and how important education is to Native youth today.
The morning presentations included “Importance of Leadership and Tribal Unity,” led by SRPMIC Vice-President Martin Harvier and Wendsler Nosie, Sr., former chairman of the San Carlos Apache Tribe. Harvier emphasized key points of true leadership values, and Nosie shared with the youth the importance of unity among tribes and how tribes should keep focused on sovereignty and protecting tribal lands.
A key message expressed by Nosie was the importance of recognizing and including traditional elements into your life. He stated, “Never be ashamed of who you are; embrace who you are … you have the right to say what you want to say; you are indigenous to this land.”
The youth and everyone in attendance received a special blessing from a group of Apache crown dancers that provides special ceremonial songs and dances. It was emphasized that this Apache group was a special ceremonial group, unlike the entertainment-based groups that perform at public functions.
A session on “O’odham Immersion” was led by Tohono O’odham member Andrea Ramon.
When everyone was enjoying their lunch of traditional foods, the children in the SRPMIC Early Enrichment Program performed O’odham and Piipaash dances. In addition, comedian Tatanka Means performed during lunch, and laughter from the youth could be heard throughout the building.
SRPMIC After-School Program staff member Andy Jay stated, “We brought in a variety of different break-out speakers. Every speaker delivered a different but powerful message to the youth.” Speakers and their topics included Quese IMC, “Culture and Resistance Using Artistic Expression Through Indigenous Hip-Hop”; Happy Frejo, “I Believe in Me”;Nataanii Means, “Empowerment and Identity”; and Anthony “Thosh” Collins, Daryl Lynn Jay and Nylin Pike, “Traditional Male and Female Roles.”
Jay added, “I think the most impactful activity [was] the break-out session where the youth were divided up by sex …. For the young males, Thosh Collins covered some pivotal information on the importance of traditional health and its importance for young Native men.” He said, “Thosh covered the traditional and modern roles of a young Native man and how by learning these traditional roles will help them grow as men. I think the separation between the two sexes for this break out session was very instrumental to the youth. As men, we will never fully understand the roles of a woman; [however] these young Native men need to understand and respect women. All we see is the physical part. And vice versa for the females.”
After the conference ended, an evening concert was held on the Salt River High School football field. The SRPMIC Youth Services Department brought out some big names in indigenous hip-hop, including acts like Quese IMC, Happy Frejo, MTV’s Rebel Music artists Frank Waln and Nataanii Means, Standing Fox, Indiganize, SRPMIC’s very own MURS 316 label artist MC Optimal (Guy Goodwin), as well as world-famous DJ Element (Logan Howard). The artists rocked the stage all night, providing some great hip-hop music.
In addition, the Labor of Love program, which included SRPMIC tribal members Dwayne Manuel (“Dwayne Insano”) and Tom “Breeze” Marcus, presented a live art show during the concert. Jay concluded, “Overall it was a great night filled with good vibes and dope music!”
A goal of the conference was to show how youth are a product of their environment and the importance of understanding their past in order to equip themselves for the future. Youth learned about real-life experiences of how Native tribes have been affected throughout their history, the importance of comprehending cultural ties, and the value of current activities that are taking place to promote, advocate for and protect Native people.
As President Ray stated in his remarks, “You cannot have ‘Community’ without ‘Unity.’” The youth learned this not only includes them, but their communities, other tribes, and the United States of America.