Cover Story
Many Native families gathered at Talking Stick Resort for the sixth annual Men and Women's gathering, hoping to heal and strengthen our Native Families by attending various sessions and speaking with other Native Communities.
Conference Aims to Heal and Strengthen Native Families
By Sheila Begay
Au-Authm Action News

From July 21 through July 23, the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community’s Life Enhancement and Resource Network (L.E.A.R.N.) hosted the sixth annual Men and Women’s Gathering at the Talking Stick Resort. Approximately 270 registered attendees participated in this national conference, some traveling from as far away as San Francisco, California.

Native communities suffer with various issues, and this conference was a place where inspirational speakers, friends, colleagues and guests could offer important life skills and advice based on their own experiences to help other Native families to prosper. The overall goal of this conference was to “bring healing and strengthening to our Native families.”

“Initially [the Men and Women’s Conference] started with a group of men in our fatherhood program who attended a work session with a couple of our council members. They [were] brought together for a dad’s day type of thing and discussed a lot of issues here in the Community and possibly come up with some ideas of what could be done to address those situations. Out of that, they developed our first men’s gathering. We had about 35 people that first year,” recalls Senior Social Worker Kevin Poleyumptewa.

“The intent is to bring together our Native families and provide them with tools, resources and education to help combat and advocate for services to address a lot of these issues. This helps to rebuild the family structure in our Native communities, which over the past couple of decades has really dissipated. [An example is,] we see a lot of grandparents raising grandchildren, so we want to help our parents with services, education and training so they’re better able to care for their children,” said Poleyumptewa.

The conference kicked off on Tuesday, July 21. During the pre-conference, participants discussed issues within their communities and developed an action plan. Individuals talked about what they were doing to help better their communities. The day ended with a cultural exchange during which those in attendance were encouraged to participate in various traditional songs and dances.

The conference was well underway on Wednesday, July 22. The morning started out with a welcome and opening remarks by Warren Kontz, Social Services manager. Thereafter, a keynote address was given by Dr. Anton Treuer, executive director of the American Indian Resource Center at Bemidji State University in Minnesota and author of 13 books. He elaborated on how things have come about and how we’ve learned to be a certain way because of everything that we’ve gone through. He also talked about the importance of our language and what that means to our people, in terms of being successful and continuing on with our traditions and cultural and ceremonial practices. He also touched on how all of this could help Native children be successful.

A second keynote address was given by Waylon Pahona, founder and creator of Healthy Active Natives (HAN), a social networking group on Facebook. Currently the group’s page has more than 50,000 members internationally.

“My life story worked perfectly for the conference and the clients. Within my [personal experiences] I let people know that there is hope. I also let them know that issues within our reservations didn’t break me. I let the audience know everything that I’ve been through and everything I’ve done to be where I am today. I let the audience know how to get pass their problems with mental health and letting them know they need [to seek help],” said Pahona.

The day continued with breakout sessions covering various topics, such as how to deal with graffiti, drugs and alcohol; positive parenting skills; domestic violence; conflict resolution; family reunification; and more.

The evening ended with a Zumba-thon, with approximately 150 dancers stretched across three ballrooms. The entire room was full with men, women and children of all ages. Conference participants danced the night away for two hours, which promoted a healthy, active lifestyle.

On Thursday, July 23, the conference slowly came to an end. A keynote address was given by certified wellness consultant Caren Trujillo, who is of Yaqui descent and is trained in a variety of natural healing methods. Trujillo elaborated on the healing techniques and different natural remedies she uses with her patients.

The afternoon’s breakout sessions covered positive parenting, communication skills, conflict resolution, sexual assault, the foster program, child care, couponing, intergenerational wellness, and how to have an overall healthy family.

“It’s a lot of information and it’s really helpful for my wife and I. We’re currently with a Salt River program and it’s good to see input and meet other people as well,” said an attendee.

“I encourage the Community to seek help and look into what this conference has to offer. Be involved with the Community,” said another attendee.

“The conference was definitely another success. It’s our sixth year and it’s been increasing every year. It’s always a great thing to see it continue to grow. We’re shooting for 500 people for next year’s conference,” said Poleyumptewa.

Next year’s Men and Women’s Gathering is set for August 22-24, 2016, again at the Talking Stick Resort. For more information, contact Social Worker II Gretchen Scott or Senior Social Worker Kevin Poleyumptewa at (480) 362-2616/7551.

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