Submitted by Cherokee Youth Council
TEMPE, Ariz. – Five members of the Cherokee Youth Council (CYC) traveled to Tempe, Ariz. recently to join 500 other indigenous youth at the United National Indian Tribal Youth (UNITY) Mid-Year Conference-Lighting the Fire: Bringing Light to Your Community Through Advocacy. Eva Bottchenbaugh, Mila Lossie, Alitama Perkins, Alexis Smith, and Emma Taylor spent several days working with their peers in Indian Country learning about and tackling issues like loss of language and culture, domestic violence, alcoholism, substance abuse, and intergenerational trauma.
Alexis Smith said about the breakout working sessions, “I liked having the discussions in our smaller group sessions about the pros and cons for the different tribes. No one had the exact same problems, but we all want to help better our tribe and people.”
The conference also worked with participants on youth empowerment through the guest presenters. Keynote speaker, James Anderson encouraged the young adults in attendance to show up with positive energy and try their best in any endeavor. Producer, Jhane Myers (Comanche); actress, Amber Midthunder (Assiniboine); and casting director, Angelique Midthunder for “Prey”, were a highlight for many youth.
“I heard from a former CYC member that this would be a great conference to attend and that made me want to experience it for myself. I enjoyed hearing from the panel from the women that worked on Prey. It was encouraging to hear from successful native women in the film industry and I was one of only 50 participants selected to meet them after their presentation for a photo,” said Emma Taylor.
Another aspect of the conference allowed youth to select from over 35 speed workshops covering a variety of topics such as emergency preparedness, better money habits, youth wellness, early college programs, the importance of the youth voice in the arts, supporting lateral kindness, indigenous and modern: it’s a balance, preserving ancestral languages, interviewing dos and don’ts, positive indigenous representations and overcoming stereotypes.
Eva Bottchenbaugh commented, “I really enjoyed seeing all the people of different tribes coming together to dance or connect. It made me fill up with tears of joy by how many of us there were and hearing all the beautiful songs. Seeing all the different cultures and hearing the songs helped open my eyes to all the different traditions other tribes have. My favorite workshop was with Kristopher Dosela who taught us three steps to learn our songs. Seeing that his tribe also have a quail song was neat.”
In addition to conference activities, there was a cultural presentation by local tribes each morning, social dancing by the O’odham Cu:dk on Friday night, and the UNITY Round Dance and Intertribal Powwow on Saturday night.
Mila Lossie stated, “My favorite part was bonding with the other girls on the trip. I had a blast spending time with everyone, there were many laughs and smiles the past few days. I also enjoyed meeting new people, participating in the dances and activities, speaking to royalty from other tribes, and exploring a new area. We were able to learn about issues that affect other tribal communities and brainstorm ways we can work to help fix issues in our own tribal communities.”
Furthermore, Alitama Perkins said, ‘My favorite part was being able to feel like I was at home with people I had never met. To be able to experience all the different cultures within one building, to see and hear all the different songs, dances, and languages. I felt as if I had known many of the new people I met my whole life. This experience filled me with emotions that cannot be explained. It is a feeling I hope to bring back to my community.”
In addition to attending the conference, the group also toured the Heard Museum and learned about the indigenous tribes of the southwest.
The Cherokee Youth Council is a program under the Ray Kinsland Leadership Institute; a department of the Cherokee Boys Club and is supported by the Cherokee Preservation Foundation.