The Sunshine Cloud Smith Youth Advisory Council spent an exciting week in Washington D.C. as part of the 39th annual National Unity Conference, whose goal is to help build a strong, unified, and self-reliant Native America through involvement of its youth. It is affiliated with youth councils sponsored by tribes, Alaska Native villages, high schools, colleges, and urban organizations. Council members, Larenz Wilbourn, Issac Suina, Lakota TwoCrow, Cameron Weaver, Elijah Weaver, Randy Herrera, and Lonicia O’John were all in attendance.
The youth council began their adventures by attending the first-ever White House Tribal Youth Gathering as part of Barack Obama’s Generation Indigenous initiative to help improve the lives of young native leaders and cultures. The youth spent their day listening to cabinet officials, including Loretta Lynch, U.S. Attorney General, Sally Jewell, U.S. Secretary of Interior, and First Lady, Michelle Obama.
“Every nation has issues and concerns, which is why we have to engage with our leaders to decide what is and what is not effective,” Lynch said. “Take something specific back to your community; education. Education is key, and don’t you ever give up. This is a time of great change in this country. As you come together, gather your ideas, learn from each other. Be the one to tell your story, and show the world all you have to offer.”
Michelle Obama, who was greeted with a standing ovation, spoke to the youth about rising up as future leaders of the nation.
“You’re all still seeing the consequences of those historical actions,” she said to a crowded room. “In the face of those challenges, we saw people look toward their future, going to college, getting jobs … this is a movement about tribal youth embracing their heritage, telling their stories. This is about tribal youth coming together. It’s a chance to for you all to connect with one another and inspire … Every single one of your lives is precious. Each of you is destined to do something in your journey. You are the generation that digs deep and shows strength in your traditions.”
“She was very outspoken and said a lot of good things,” said council member, Lakota TwoCrow.
“She had inspiring words for us,” added Lonicia O’John.
The youth groups then dispersed into breakout sessions where they learned about team building and connecting with others.
The youth council continued their adventures in the nation’s capitol by seeing some of the key monuments, including the White House, Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument, and the Vietnam Memorial, just to name a few. They also spent time in various museums, including the National Museum of the American Indians where they learned insightful views on American Indian history.
“We’ve been doing lots of walking, but so far it looks like the kids are having fun out here,” said Mary Guenther, youth council coordinator. “It’s good that they are experiencing these things in our nation’s capitol.”
The youth council continued their breakout sessions throughout the week as they met new faces. They retreated to the annual celebration banquet, on Monday, July 13. Speaking at the event was indigenous actor, Adam Beach, who discussed his troubled times growing up and breaking through the barriers of perseverance.
“Growing up as a teen, I had to learn many things. I was suicidal; all the trauma was hitting me,” Beach said. “I soon found something that made me feel connected; our teachings … They are about respect – nothing more, nothing less. Respect yourself, your family, and your friends. When you pray to the Creator, he’s listening. You guys are the proof that we are re-defining who we are … That’s about life and empowerment, and that is the gift our teachings provide us.”
“The trip here has been fun and we got to do a lot of stuff,” stated Randy Herrera, Sunshine Cloud Smith Youth Council member.
“Coming here allows us to become better leaders,” added Lakota TwoCrow.
The 2016 National Unity Conference will be held in Oklahoma City, OK as they celebrate their 40th anniversary.