Native American Youth Leadership Conference Breaks Attendance Record

Courtesy UNITY / Native youth proudly celebrated their heritage and traditions throughout the UNITY conference.

More than 2,000 Native American youth gather in Denver for UNITY Conference.

Traveling from tribal and urban communities across the nation, and from as far away as the Hawaiian Islands, Alaskan Native villages and the island of Taiwan Republic of China, more than 2,000 registered attendees converged in Denver, Colorado for the United National Indian Tribal Youth’s (UNITY) annual national conference. The 41st annual Native American youth leadership development conference was held July 6-10, 2017 at the Colorado Convention Center; it was the largest gathering in the organization’s history.

“We are ecstatic about the turnout this year,” Mary Kim Titla, UNITY’s executive director, said in a press release. “Going into the conference we knew we would be close to record numbers. We are so grateful to all our attendees this year, as well as our speakers and presenters, sponsors, local planning committee, exhibitors, and the wonderful conference staff and volunteers who contributed to a successful and meaningful leadership conference for our Native American youth.”

To symbolically mark the beginning of the conference, the UNITY Fire was lit, and it burned throughout the five-day conference. The Fire is a sacred and safe place for cultural sharing and healing for all ages.

A Parade of Nations was also held at the beginning of the conference, where Native American youth proudly represented their tribal nations in traditional regalia.

Courtesy UNITY / The National UNITY Conference began with the lighting of the UNITY Fire, which burned continuously during the five-day conference.

Courtesy UNITY / UNITY youth councils from across the country, dressed in traditional regalia, participated in the Parade of Nations during the opening general session.

The theme for this year’s conference was “Finding Wellness and Healing Within Our Cultures,” and the agenda featured an impressive lineup of speakers including top-ranked Iroquois National lacrosse players, the Thompson Brothers (Jeremy, Miles, Lyle and Hiana), Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Chairman David Archambault II, artist Steven Paul Judd (Choctaw), former Vice Chairwoman Deborah Parker (Tulalip Tribes), documentary filmmaker Myron Dewey (Paiute/Shoshone), and the City of Denver Mayor Michael Hancock.

Courtesy UNITY / Top-ranked Iroquois National lacrosse players, known as the Thompson Brothers, shared their personal stories and provided words of inspiration.

Conference attendees also joined in launching the UNITY Wellness Warriors App, which is designed to help track wellness from a cultural perspective. It offers fitness through cultural dance, healthy eating with traditional Native foods and a wellness tracker. It’s available for free on the App Store and Play Store.

Courtesy UNITY / Well for Cultures Thosh Collins and Chelsey Luger gave a special presentation on cultural and traditional based health and fitness principles, helping to launch the UNITY Wellness Warriors App.

Every year at the UNITY Conference, Native American youth leaders address a number of social issues affecting tribal communities. This year, the Indigenous H.E.R.O. Project (Honor, Empower, Respect, Overcome), which addresses the bullying epidemic, was presented by the National UNITY Council’s Executive Committee as their key initiative for 2017-2018.

Courtesy UNITY / The 2017/2018 National UNITY Council Executive Committee members were elected during the annual business meeting. Pictured, from left, are: Richard Crook, Robert “Scottie” Miller, Tashoni Morales, Teran Villa, Joshua Iron Shell, Joseph Davis, Jacob Hugs, Mary Bush, William Mosely, Sophie Tiger, Hamilton Seymour, and Brittany McKane.

UNITY youth council members elected new leadership for 2017-2018 at the conference. The new officers were sworn in during the UNITY gala celebration on the final night of the conference. They are:

  • Male Co-President – Hamilton Seymour (Nooksack Indian Tribe) (serving a second term)
  • Female Co-President – Sophie Tiger (Comanche Nation of Oklahoma)

Regional Representatives:

  • Great Plains – Joshua Tuf Iron Shell (Rosebud Sioux Tribe – Sicangu Lakota)
  • Midwest – Mary Shabanaa Bush (Gun Lake Tribe)
  • Northeast – William Mosely (Nanticoke Lenni Lenape Tribal Nation)
  • Northwest – Robert Scott Miller (Swinomish Tribe)
  • Pacific – Tashoni Morales (Tachi Yokut/ Western Shoshone)
  • Rocky Mountain – Jacob Hugs (Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes)
  • Southeast – Richard Blakeland Crook (Poarch Band of Creek Indians)
  • Southern Plains – Brittany Faith McKane (Muscogee Creek)
  • Southwest – Teran Anfernee Villa (Pueblo of Jemez)
  • Western – Joseph Davis (Akimel O’odham)
Courtesy UNITY / Tribal royalty was in attendance, participating and representing tribal communities from east to west coast.

UNITY also recognized and presented awards to:

  • Golda Cook $1,000 Memorial Scholarships: Zackary Jackson (Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe of Michigan) and Savanna Rilatos (Confederated Tribes of Siletz)
  • Cook Native American Ministries Foundation $1,000 Scholarships: Christie Wildcat (Northern Arapaho) and Amberly Proctor (Muscogee Creek Nation)
  • UNITY Youth Council of the Year: Nḱʷucin One Voice UNITY Council – Flathead Reservation, Montana
  • J.R. Cook Youth Advisor of the Year: Nancy Mason (Muscogee Creek) – Mvskoke Creek Youth Council, Oklahoma
  • Eddie Wadda Alumni of the Year: UNITY Drumkeepers: Isidoro “Junior” Sierra (Cherokee Nation) and Michael Killer (Cherokee Nation) both of Tahlequah, Oklahoma
Courtesy UNITY / An Aboriginal youth group delegation from the island of Taiwan Republic of China provided a fun and interactive cultural exchange presentation, teaching the Native youth new dance moves.

Courtesy UNITY / The annual UNITY 3-on-3 Basketball Tournament was a crowd pleaser with more than 40 teams competing

Courtesy UNITY / The popular cultural exchange night showcased Native youth sharing traditional dances, storytelling, and singing.

Courtesy UNITY / Comedian and actor Tatanka Means was a big hit with attendees as the opening entertainment for the annual UNITY gala and awards celebration.

Courtesy UNITY / A packed house. UNITY attendees enjoyed entertainment, awards presentations, and the announcement of the 2017/2018 National UNITY Council at the annual UNITY gala and awards celebration. Centerpieces featured the artwork of guest speaker, Steven Paul Judd.

For more images and video footage of the conference, visit the UNITY website and UNITY Facebookpage.