Dozens of youth leaders from the three Ute sister tribes of Southern Ute, Northern Ute and Ute Mountain Ute gathered in Salt Lake City, Utah for the fifth annual Tri-Ute Youth Leadership Conference. This year’s conference was hosted by the Northern Ute Tribe on the University of Utah campus. The conference featured a fully packed agenda that began Sunday, June 15 and concluded on Wednesday, June 19.
Every year, each Tribe’s education department encourages all Ute tribal members, descendants and any youth living in a Ute household to apply to attend the conference. Registration is open to all youth who are 13-19 years of age.
The origin of the conference began in 2010 when all three education departments from the tribes gathered together and presented their idea to each of their Tribal Councils respectively, and received approval. “When our Tribal Councils approved this conference, they invested in each of you,” Southern Ute Education Department Director, LaTitia Taylor stated. “I really want to encourage each of you to learn because this is a leadership conference and to be proud of who you are and of where you come from.”
Each day of the conference was managed and planned by one of the three tribes. To start things off, the Northern Ute Tribe was the first to host. They brought Anthony Guzman, a former student of the University of Utah and current Assistant Executive Director for the Ute Indian Tribe to speak to the kids.
“Rez life is tough I know every single one of you out there right now regardless of what rez you come from has seen violence, has seen gang stuff, alcohol and drugs and suicide—I know you’ve seen it, it’s not a secret,” Guzman stated. “I learned how to never give up, and that’s what I want each of you to do too.”
His key note speech, highlighted the works of Tupac Shakur, genocide, marginalization and resilience. “I’ve learned how to unlearn so many ugly things that I was taught on the reservation, but I’ve also learned how to trust and love,” Guzman shared. “Racism, assimilation, genocide, these are the reasons why we learn all the ugliness and sometimes we do these things to each other—but, all the history we share gives us reason to help and love each other.”
Every eye in the room followed his movements, students, teachers and visitors clung onto every word that came out of his mouth. At the end of his speech, clapping hands and cheers could be heard on each level of the J. Willard Marriot Library. “If you want to change your family, your community, your world—you have to first start with yourself,” Guzman encouraged.
The following day was dedicated to the Southern Ute Tribe. Students were separated into different groups to learn from elders, about history, hand games and language. The Sunshine Cloud Smith Youth Advisory Council hosted the annual Jimmy Newton Youth Leadership Conference and it featured guest speaker Beth Santisteven.
Santisteven graduated from the University of New Mexico with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communication and Journalism. She recently received her Master of Arts Degree from Arizona State University for Communications Studies with an emphasis in Advocacy. She spoke to the youth about the difficulties they will face in academia, but also encouraged them to not let that stop them. “I really do want you all to succeed—I am your biggest fan. I am your biggest cheerleader. I am Ute and I am proud,” Santisteven exclaimed. “I will always be proud of all of you.”
Southern Ute Education Director, LaTitia Taylor emphasized the importance of creating bonds and friendships with one another in a closing statement where she addressed the youth. She also encouraged all the students to reach out to the University of Utah’s admissions department and applauded the wealth of educational opportunities that they have available.
Cultural presentations filled the workshop curriculum, with Ute elders sharing information on the Bear Dance, hand games and the round dance. Each youth in attendance was able to learn more about their tribal leadership, ancestral lands and the history they share with one another.
“The exposure that they get is unbelievable,” said Amber Boswell, Southern Ute Education Director Apprentice. “It’s this great experience for them, but also an opportunity for them to learn about before graduation.”
The Tri-Ute Leadership Conference is funded equally by all three Ute tribes. Next year’s conference will be hosted by the Ute Mountain Ute Indian Tribe.
“My people have always been powerful leaders and attending this conference has only encouraged me to carry myself in the same way,” Aislinn Red shared. “I enjoyed every second of the trip and being with our sister tribes is always a nice experience.” Red was one of 28 students to attend the conference with the Southern Ute Education Department.