The 2018 United National Indian Tribal Youth (UNITY) Conference was held this year, Thursday, July 5 — Monday, July 9, at the Town & Country Resort and Convention Center in San Diego, Calif. This year there were more than 1,800 attendees and 12 of those attendees were representing the Southern Ute Indian Reservation and Tribe. The conference brought tribal youth together for the largest Native youth leadership gathering in the country.
Laughing and healing seemed to be the common atmosphere of the conference, everywhere you looked there were youth growing, sharing stories, and inspiring hope.
The five-day conference agenda is like no other, participants had opportunities to attend keynote presentations, they had access to more than 25 workshops, they were all encouraged to participate in fun and unique peer-led fitness activities, with more than 50 exhibitors and vendors, and were able to experience the uniqueness of the National UNITY Conference through the talent night, and the annual banquet and dance.
According to the official website, the mission of UNITY is to, “Foster the spiritual, mental, physical, and social development of American Indian and Alaska Native youth, and to help build a strong, unified, and self-reliant Native America through greater youth involvement.” UNITY is a national network organization promoting personal development, citizenship, and leadership among Native American youth.
UNITY has had a long history of inspiring and supporting the lives of American Indian youth — forty plus years.
“Supaman” is a well-known Native American dancer who uses hip hop and art to empower and spread the message of hope and faith through music. He was one of the renowned speakers and performers that were featured at the UNITY conference.
Each morning, the conference began with wellness warrior fitness demonstrations and activities were hosted in the convention center that taught the youth about leading a healthy and well-balanced journey through life and each of the 100 participants received a special gift.
To kick things off, a general morning session was held to exhibit cultural presentations, share UNITY news and speeches. In the ballrooms and courtyards, the Thompson brothers held a discussion about “The Medicine Game” also known as lacrosse. Natia O Le Pasefoka shared cultural dances and songs with the youth. Youth leaders from the “ACORN” project talked about food sovereignty in collaboration with the California Indian Museum and Cultural Center. Endurance and wellness goal setting workshops were held for females and males by Ilima-Lei Macfarlane, an MMA Bellator Women’s Flyweight World Champion and Abram Benally from the American Ninja Warrior.
On the evening of the third day, a talent show was held in the Grand Exhibit Hall to showcase the many talents of the youth in attendance there was also a night of storytelling and cultural sharing held around the UNITY fire.
The fourth day began with a blessing by Chris Devers from the Pauma Band of Luiseno Indians and Brooke Simpson, “The Voice” finalist, gave a keynote speech and provided entertainment at the morning general session.
Each Southern Ute youth attended the workshops held throughout the convention center that focused on tribal leadership, ancestral lands and the history of UNITY. The first track of workshops focused on banking and financial literacy, leadership and cultural inclusion and virtual suicide prevention for tribal youth.
“It was challenging to participate in this workshop because I grew up being taught to not play with food” Lakota TwoCrow said about his time spent in the “Trying Healthy Foods to Combat Diabetes” workshop during the second track of the day. TwoCrow is a Southern Ute tribal member, he has been attending the conference since 2014.
The second track of workshops included presentations on language preservation, setting indigenous goals, powwow dancing, and advocacy building.
In the third track, youth were encouraged to communicate, explore different careers and reclaim history.
Bringing an end to the week, the 42nd Annual Unity Gala began around the UNITY drum where a blessing was offered before the start of dinner. At the gala, Brian Yazzie, a magician from the Navajo Nation provided the entertainment at the in the grand exhibit hall. UNITY news was shared, sponsors for the conference were recognized, awards were given, scholarships were presented, raffles were drawn and the dinner ended with an honor song.
To end the conference, a closing ceremony was held at the UNITY fire where SleepyEye LaFromboise and Sheldon Smith provided a blessing ceremony and everyone grew excited for UNITY 2019 in Orlando, Florida!