Each year, The Society of American Indian Government Employees or SAIGE – the first national non-profit organization representing American Indian and Alaska Native Federal, Tribal, State, and local government employees – brings together young tribal members to teach them leadership and offers seminars to encourage them to reach out and bring their strengths to their communities.
This year’s Annual SAIGE Conference, taking place June 15-18 2015 in Welch, Minnesota themed: “Growing Native Leaders: Enhancing Our Seven Generations” is geared specifically for youth, veterans and any other American Indian employees that will be navigating the waters of federal trust responsibility.
JoAnn Brant, who has served at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in the Office of Human Resources under the Human Capital Planning Division in recruitment and outreach, has been the Presidential Management Fellows Coordinator and director of the SAIGE program for the past 11 years. “The students are able to build relationships with each other that are lasting and a benefit to build each other up and provide support,” she says. “Each year we work on the agenda with our student partner American Higher Education Consortium (AIHEC) to provide what students have requested, which are interactive workshops where they are not just listening to a speaker but actually participating through small groups and hands on presentations.”
According to Brant, several young leaders have benefitted from the training program and brought what they learned into their own communities. Three young people who served as an example by bringing positive changes forward were Taylor Morris and Wesley Wilson (Cherokee Nation) and Dallas Peterman, (Navajo.)
Brant mentioned how Taylor Morris, who had at first come to SAIGE very young, shy and had never been on a plane before – now was finishing pharmacy school and decided to work in his Native community, ‘where he can make a difference,” Brant says.
Brant also lauds young Dine’ man Dallas Peterman, who excelled after gaining insights at a SAIGE training program.
Dallas Peterman told ICTMN he was not only inspired by the SAIGE program, “During one seminar they asked all of us to write down the issues we experienced on our reservations. We exchanged the paper, and when we did we discovered the issues were all exactly the same. There were Blackfeet, Alaskan Natives and we all talked about the same issues as each other. I am from the Navajo reservation. All I know is Navajo, Apache and Hopi it was very interesting to see the same issues on other reservations.”
Feeling inspired with a sense of the ability to accomplish any task, Peterman used his inspiration gained from the conference to make a decision one day while hitchhiking. He decided to pick up trash on a 97-mile stretch on his reservation.
After making the decision, he sought help from the community. Though things went slow at first, he eventually made the front page of the local newspaper – after nearly two weeks, Peterman had traveled the 97 miles and collected more than 500 bags of trash.
“Wes Wilson is another one of our leaders. He came to SAIGE at a young age as well and has just blossomed. Wes is now working at Oklahoma Indian Health and making a difference in his community by outreach activities,” Brant says.
According to Wilson, SAIGE was a way to connect to the outside world.
Since July of 2011, Wilson has been with the Central Oklahoma American Indian Health Council, today he says he shares what he has learned from SAIGE to benefit others in his own community.
“From SAIGE I have learned how strong the Native community is, nation-wide. Native professionals across the United States work tirelessly to make this great event happen. It has encouraged me, and others, to give in our respected communities. Here in Oklahoma City, we have started a mentoring program to guide our Native youth in a positive direction. When working with youth, I use SAIGE as an example to see and experience other aspects of Native culture our youth wouldn’t have otherwise.”
Taylor Morris has found similar inspiration to Peterman. Currently a fourth year pharmacy student at the University of Oklahoma, Morris has found he is not alone in wanting to help his own community with his skillset.
“The support system I have witnessed is huge. I feel this is the main reason positive things come from SAIGE. Another thing I have gained from SAIGE is that I am not alone! There are others from around the country looking to do well and help our own communities. As I was growing up, I didn’t get to see that very much. After SAIGE it empowers you knowing that you are not alone in wanting better for your community. It helps knowing that others are with you and together you can make things happen.”
“Looking back I kind of kept to myself, was very quiet when around people, and was not outgoing at all. This was exactly who I was on day one of the conference, but at the end, I was the complete opposite. This conference was life changing for me,” Morris said.