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Empowering Native Youth to Preserve Their Identities

Native American hip-hop artist and activist Nataanii Means was one of many artists who performed during the Fourth Annual Native Youth Identity Conference at the Salt River baseball field on June 14.

In a world where Native youth are constantly pressured into “finding out who they really are,” they tend to lose their identities in the process. Our identities—who we are and where we come from as American Indians—are crucial in order for future generations to prosper and survive as a people.

This year, the Fourth Annual Native Youth Identity Conference hosted by the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community aimed to do just that.

This year’s conference was held on June 16 at the Salt River Community Building and Salt River baseball field. The conference included key speakers, breakout sessions, and an Indigenous Boom Box and Graffiti Art Show.

According to the SRPMIC Youth Services Department, “The intent of this conference is to empower our Native youth with a strong sense of who they are as Native peoples. We want to enrich their lives and build their self-esteem by encouraging them to strive for higher education. The goal is to help our Native youth come to the realization that our people are deeply impacted by the past. We are products of our environment, but we need to understand the past in order to equip our youth for the future.”

The morning sessions included a welcome by SRPMIC President Delbert W. Ray, Sr., Anthony “Thosh” Collins, an ambassador from Well for Culture, the Young River People’s Council, and music artists Quese IMC and Supaman.

Supaman is a rapper from Washington who lived a life of poverty, struggling with alcoholic parents and foster care. He offered positive words and encouragement to the youth. He mentioned that despite growing up in that world, it took losing his father for his mother to wake up. Since that point, she became his hero and helped him to be the performer and rapper he is today. His story was enlightening and powerful, as he had the audience’s full attention.

“Being sober is traditional. If you want to embrace our culture and being Indigenous, or being Native, what is more traditional than being drug- and alcohol-free? It’s an awesome tradition to keep up. It’s a better life,” said Supaman, who has been drug- and alcohol-free his entire life. “If you do drugs and alcohol, you go through detours. You could even die. But if you stay drug- and alcohol-free, you will live a better life. Less drama and much healthier.”

He added, “Don’t be afraid to reach out to the elders. When I was growing up, I was scared to go to the elders and ask questions. I always wondered, ‘Am I bothering them?’ But I found out later on that they want you to come to them. They want to teach, they want to teach you the songs, the language and everything else. Don’t be afraid. Get over that fear of bothering someone and reach out. Do what you have to do to embrace your culture. Later on in life, you’ll find out the value of it.

“The young people might not value the cultures as much right now because they’re so influenced by the outer worlds. Later in life, you will realize that your culture and traditions are priceless. If you’re young and you can grasp that value early, do all you can to preserve our cultures,” added Supaman.

The afternoon breakout sessions included speakers Martha Martinez, Joan Wood, Patsy King, Andy Jay, Doran Dalton and SRPMIC Council Member Ricardo Leonard. Each speaker shared a personal story and provided advice to the young men and women about the importance of preserving culture and traditions. All youth were attentive as the speakers engaged with them, asking questions and allowing for them to provide answers and input.

The Indigenous Boom Box and Graffiti Art Show included music artists DJ Element, MC Optimal, Kahara Hodges, Supaman, Nataanii Means, Antoine Edwards, Jr., Witko, Cempoalli 20, Olivia Komatchee, Quese IMC, Indigenize, MC Rhetorik and DJ Whoa. Along with the musical performances were various informational booths, vendors and a graffiti art section where anyone could get creative with a spray-paint can.

“It’s only right to be a part of this movement. Even if I weren’t on the lineup I would still do my best to promote this event because it has such a positive message. I’m honored to be a part of this annual lineup and perform for indigenous youth, to show them my passion which has taken me around the globe. If I can do it, you can do it too,” said DJ Element. “It’s very crucial to know your foundation because if you don’t know the history of your people, how are you ever going to know your future. That means knowing who you are as a people, your tribe/ clans, your culture, and traditions.”

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