“I love the energy,” said Dyami Thomas, 22, of the National Reservation Economic Summit (RES), held March 21-24 at the Mirage Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas. “I love seeing all the successful people here. All these Native people — it’s so empowering.
Dyami (Leech Lake Anishinabe and Klamath) is a model, actor and motivational speaker to Native youth.
“I can’t wait till the youth get to see this, the videos and everything online [on the NativeEdge.com]. It’s something truly amazing — to bring this much positive energy, this many Natives in one spot. It’s not overwhelming but it’s breathtaking.”
On March 21 at National RES, the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development (National Center) and the United National Indian Tribal Youth (UNITY) inked a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to promote youth entrepreneurship. The two nationally recognized organizations joined forces to create youth-oriented entrepreneurial education, and offer ongoing resources for Native youth.
“It’s impossible for us to talk about sustainability if we don’t have a new generation of American Indian business people coming up,” said Gary Davis, National Center President and CEO.
The start of the more formal and expansive relationship between the National Center and UNITY began at RES New Mexico at the Buffalo Thunder Resort and Casino in Santa Fe, November 16-19, 2015, with the first Youth Entrepreneurship Summit (YES!). YES! is designed for Native high school and college-aged students interested in business and entrepreneurship to hone their skills and learn more about what it takes to become successful in business.
“We had a first-time event for the National Center; we had YES! — Youth Entrepreneurship Summit,” Davis said, and unexpected applause erupted across the Mirage ballroom. “Go ahead. For the youth!” he encouraged.
Combining the influence of the National Center and UNITY was “an idea that had been brought together from a lot of intention and desire over many years,” Davis said. “And then within two months, youth came together, inspired to be the next generation of American Indian business people.
“When we started to put that in motion, I thought to myself, we need to work with folks who do this in a collaborative fashion — because we need to partner with folks who wake up every single day and focus on youth and work towards bettering the future of our young people and empowering our American Indian youth,” Davis said.
The MOU, signed at RES on March 21, unites the National Center and UNITY’s purposes to help guide young entrepreneurs through joint programming. The National Center and UNITY will tie-in youth business training and workshop components to their respective annual gatherings, including RES events and the UNITY midyear and national conferences.
“The [National Center] Chairman [Derrick Watchman] mentioned, ‘We mean business for Indian country,’ and we cannot just mean business now. We have to mean business for the future. And the future means what we do now. Tomorrow is what we make of today,” Davis added.
Mary Kim Titla, executive director of United National Indian Tribal Youth (UNITY), took the Reservation Economic Summit stage. “We developed a new slogan recently: ‘Aspiring hope and changing lives.’ UNITY is celebrating 40 years this year — promoting citizenship, leadership and personal development,” Titla told RES attendees.
“How many of you believe that our young people are beautiful?” Titla asked. [Applause.]
“How many of you believe that our young people are powerful?” she continued. [Applause.]
“How many of you believe our young people are warriors — male and female warriors?” [Applause.]
“Of course they are. UNITY has a vision,” Titla said. “We are celebrating 40 years, and in the near future, with your help, we hope to build a National Native Youth Leadership Center, where we can bring young Native people together, where they can learn to become entrepreneurs, to become leaders in their community and fulfill their dreams.”
“How do we build entrepreneurs? I’m going to use this acronym: HOPE,” Titla said.
H: Hear. We need to HEAR our youth. We need to listen to their heart’s desires. Their voice matters.
O: Open-hearted. Be open-hearted as you listen to our young people. They need you to care.
P: Pray. On Facebook recently a young man talked about his run-in with a tribal leader last week at the National Indian Gaming Association. He talked about this tribal leader encouraging him in a spiritual way. And I remembered when I ran for office in 2008 how I talked to a tribal leader about my vision. And he immediately said, ‘I support you. I believe in you. Let’s pray.’ It didn’t matter where we were, in the lobby of a hotel. We stopped what we were doing, and he prayed with me, and I’ll never forget that.
E: Empower. Empower our youth to realize their dreams. Indeed, our young people are beautiful. They are powerful. They are warriors. And they are the HOPE of Indian country.
“I thank the National Center for collaborating with UNITY to build our entrepreneurs and to empower them,” Titla noted. “And I thank you [RES attendees] for being here today and giving us this opportunity to come before you to talk about this collaboration. We whole-heartedly support the Youth Entrepreneurship Summit. We will continue to promote it and encourage our youth to fulfill their dreams by attending events like this.”
Titla encouraged all RES participants: “Please, if you see a young person, reach out to that young person, even if it’s to say hello, and shake their hand, and ask them how their day is going. That’s where it starts, by just letting them know that you care. Thank you again, Gary Davis. We are happy to be here today to sign a Memorandum of Understanding with the National Center to promote the Youth Entrepreneurship Summit.”
Native young people are encouraged to attend Youth Entrepreneurship Summit! (YES!) at the Reservation Economic Summit Oklahoma (RES Oklahoma) at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Tulsa, Oklahoma from July 11-14, 2016. YES! is powered by Facebook and participants will hear from accomplished American Indian entrepreneurs and nationally known speakers about the strategies, skills, and paths that helped them reach their business dreams.
“We’re not alone; everybody’s in this together,” Dyami said. “Native youth need to know out there: When one wins, we all win. We rise together. We do everything together.”