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Native youth UNITY national conference concludes in Washington, D.C.

National UNITY Council Executive Committee elections held in Washington
Staff Reports | Digital Free Press

UNITY hosted its national conference earlier this month at the Washington Hilton in Washington, D.C., with more than 2,200 youth and adult attendees from throughout the United States.

The conference drew youth representatives from more than 250 tribal communities in what has been dubbed the Super Bowl of Native youth leadership events, according to a press release.

UNITY’s opening ceremony featured representatives from the organization’s 300 affiliated youth councils and, this year, included a delegation of indigenous youth from Taiwan. Featured presentations included:

  • U.S. Treasurer Lynn Malerba;
  • Grammy award-winning fashion designer Norma Baker-Flying Horse;
  • Documentarian Matika Wilbur;
  • DJ and youth advocate Marcus “Emcee One” Guinn;
  • Shawn “DJ Tribal Touch” Martinez, senior director of live presentation for the Phoenix Suns and Phoenix Mercury;
  • Victoria Vasques, chairwoman of Tribal Tech LLC; and
  • White House Senior Policy Advisor for Native Affairs, Domestic Policy Council, Elizabeth Hildalgo.

“This year’s National Conference exceeded our greatest expectations regarding attendance, engagement, and participation. Many of our attendees persevered through some challenging travel situations to make it to Washington DC,” said Mary Kim Titla, UNITY executive director, in a prepared statement.

“I’m always inspired by their commitment and leadership and by our speakers’ and presenters’ passion and knowledge.”

The conference’s theme was “Healing the Spirit of Native Youth.”

National UNITY Council Executive Committee elections held in Washington

Native American and Alaska Native youth and advisors from rural and urban tribal communities across the U.S. came together for learning, cultural sharing, and collaboration focused on the theme.

Attendees had the opportunity to visit the National Museum of the American Indian for a welcome reception and conference blessing featuring museum director Cynthia Chavez Lamar and Ernie Stevens, Jr., chairman of the Indian Gaming Association. Youth participants also met in regional caucuses, attended empowerment sessions, participated in workshops and fashion shows, and discussed issues important to the Native Youth community.

Special conference video messages geared to Native youth in attendance were provided by Vice President of the United States Kamala Harris; Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland; Representative Sharice Davids; U.S. Department of Commerce Secretary Gina Marie Raimondo; U.N. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield; and primatologist and anthropologist Dr. Jane Goodall.

The National UNITY Council held its annual business meeting during the conference.

The NUC comprises representatives from UNITY’s 10 regions, representing 36 states and 320 affiliated youth councils. The youth leaders identified the top 10 issues facing native youth, which they will prioritize during 2023/2024. They are:

  1. Substance abuse
  2. Culture and language
  3. Mental health
  4. Domestic violence
  5. Education
  6. Tribal leadership support
  7. Climate change
  8. Suicide
  9. Missing and murdered indigenous relatives
  10. Involvement/empowerment

At the NUC business meeting, UNITY youth peers elected Kaytlynn Johnston (Bishop Paiute Tribe of California) and Jonathan Arakawa (Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe of Washington) as copresidents of the National UNITY Council Executive Committee.

An official honoring of the 2023 UNITY Circle of Earth Ambassadors took place during the conference. The environmental stewardship and leadership program, which began in the 1990s, provides Native American youth with training sessions and informational workshops to increase their knowledge of environmental issues affecting Indian country.

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