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YRPC Members Attend UNITY Conference in Denver

Nalani Lopez, Sialik King, Cianna Dallas, Gabriela Fulwilder, Ramon Lopez, Sommer Lopez and Alyssa Andrews attended the UNITY conference.
Photos submitted by Office of Congressional And Legislative Affairs

Every year, members of the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community’s Young River People’s Council (YRPC) attend the United National Indian Tribal Youth (UNITY) Conference. More than 2,000 youth from across the United States and other countries attended this year’s five-day conference, which was held in Denver, Colorado, July 6-10.

The UNITY conference is a Native youth leadership-development conference that features nationally renowned speakers, informative workshops and culture-sharing in a supportive, healthy and fun environment. This year marked the 41st annual UNITY Conference.

Here, members of the YRPC share their experiences this year.

Sommer Lopez, YRPC Clerical Secretary

This July we were lucky enough to travel to Denver, Colorado, for the annual UNITY Conference. This conference is always a joy for us because we make so many connections with Native youth across the country and we gain experiences that empower us for the future. During the conference there was a Culture Night, where [different tribal] youth councils were able to share their cultures. Every year the Four Tribes work together for one big presentation of O’odham culture. Salt River shared the swing dance and featured our handmade sticks. UNITY is a great time for us to get to know our sister tribes. Our dances and songs are beautiful when we perform together.

During the conference we also attended different workshops to learn about many topics that affect Indian Country. This year we hosted our own workshop, “How to Address Substance Abuse in Your Community.” We had a pretty big turnout. First we had an ice-breaker to hear people’s different perspectives, thoughts and experiences with substance abuse. Then we broke into groups to plan an event that the youth would like to host in their community, to [raise] awareness on this subject. There were many great ideas, and we encouraged them to use these plans in their own communities.

Ramon Lopez, YRPC Vice-President

UNITY, for me, has always been an amazing experience because we get to see old friends, meet new people and network with other youth councils from around the country.

At this year’s conference I ran for the National UNITY Council to represent the Western region. Unfortunately I did not get the position, but I’m going to take what I learned and run again next year! We hosted a workshop on “How to Address Substance Abuse in Your Community.” I enjoyed hosting the workshop and watching [members of] other youth councils work together.

YRPC during culture night.

Sialik King, YRPC Correspondence Secretary

I had the amazing opportunity to attend the United National Indian Tribal Youth (UNITY) conference this year, which was held in Denver, Colorado. This was my second time attending the UNITY Conference, and I believe it was very successful. I learned a lot from the keynote speakers and about our sister tribes and the individuals associated with their youth councils.

Importantly, I learned more about other tribal cultures and about leadership roles that I can have within our Community. I’m going to try to apply everything I learned in youth council and take more leadership roles in the Community and within my school. During the conference there was a “Culture Night,” where youth shared their cultures, songs and dances with everyone. The YRPC had the opportunity to share the swing dance, and we also got to sing for the other sister tribes to help share O’odham culture. I enjoyed watching the UNITY fire with the sister tribes and felt blessed to sing and dance with them around the fire.

In closing, UNITY was a very good experience and I would love to attend again. More youth in our Community should join youth council and they would have the opportunity to attend Native youth conferences like this one.

Nalani Lopez, YRPC Treasurer

My first UNITY conference in Denver was a great experience. There were so many other youth councils and Native celebrities [there], like [model/actor] Dyami Thomas. The general sessions and workshops were informative, but I looked forward to the evening activities. On Friday night, we did the swing dance during Culture Night. After hanging out with members of many other youth councils, we attended the talent show on Saturday night. Sunday was fun because we did our workshop and attended the banquet.

I’m thankful that I was able to attend because I had lots of fun meeting new people.

YRPC hosted a workshop on addressing Substance Abuse in Your Community.

Gabriela Fulwilder, YRPC Member

This was my first UNITY Conference, and I took on the female representative role for the Young River People’s Council. Being the female representative was an honor. I attended the business meeting, where we voted for the National UNITY Council Western Representative and Co-Presidents, and gave an update on our youth council activities.

The conference brought youth together from all around the world in a positive environment. I would like to incorporate more events for youth to help distract them from substance abuse.

The four sister tribes came together during the Culture Night to share O’odham culture. The YRPC did the swing dance. For the social dance, we assisted with the giveaway dance. The other youth danced with us for items like shell necklaces. It was really fun.

During the conference we hosted a workshop on substance abuse. We gave a short speech on what we were doing in Salt River, then broke them into groups and had them plan an activity in their community. My favorite presentation at the UNITY Conference was given by the youth council from Taiwan; it was interesting to learn about their culture.