Five Southern Ute youth attended the Close Up Foundation’s American Indian and Alaska Native Youth Summit in Washington, D.C. The six-day program is one of a kind and even works alongside the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) to allow students the opportunity to address their concerns and opinions that their communities face with the help of tribal leadership. The conference spanned from Sunday, Feb. 9 — Friday, Feb. 14.
The program helped youth develop the skills and attitudes necessary to become more active citizens in their tribes and communities. The trip was made possible with the collaborative efforts of the Education Department’s Sunshine Cloud Smith Youth Advisory Council (SCSYAC) and Youth Employment Program. Lexy Young, Elijah Weaver, Sarafina Chackee, Marcus Archuleta and Kalynn Weaver attended the conference together. Young, Weaver and Chackee all currently serve on the youth council and are hoping to recruit their peers to serve with them as well.
Close Up is a non-profit and non-partisan organization that helps young people achieve their full potential by working with them to develop the skills and knowledge to make a change in history, the world and their communities. The program seeks to serve youth from all communities and backgrounds, regardless of race, religion, gender, socioeconomic level, or academic standing. Since their founding in 1971, over 900,000 students, teachers, and parents have participated in Close Up’s Washington, DC-based programs combined.
While exploring Washington, D.C., students observed government officials and tribal leaders first-hand as they advocated for issues impacting Indian Country. Students had the opportunity to experience six days of travel, including visits to memorials, panel discussions, workshops and congressional debriefings. The students were also encouraged to engage in workshops with other students from different tribal communities and discuss the issues that they are facing in their communities. They were also given the opportunity to create a Tribal Action Initiatives plan. This plan addresses their concerns, and is even presented by them to tribal leaders, political experts, and policymakers at NCAI during their general session in D.C.
Their agenda was not only filled with educational adventures but also with unique experiences. Youth had the opportunity to attend a play at the Ford’s Theater where president Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. They had access to more than three visits with congressional representatives with the option to ask pressing questions about legislation, they were all encouraged to participate in fun and unique peer-led political activities and were all able to experience the uniqueness of the Close Up program together as peers.
“It was interesting to me how all the youth at Close Up worked together to learn and help each other find ways to solve problems in their communities,” Youth Advisory Councilman, Elijah Weaver expressed. “It was also awesome to meet a lot of other tribal youth during this educational program.” The students were all encouraged to engage in workshops with other students from different tribal communities and discuss the most pressing issues facing their communities. “I now understand that almost every nation or tribe experience the same problems in their communities, but they are still fighting and looking for ways to handle them,” echoed SCSYAC Secretary, Lexy Young. They were also given the opportunity to create a Tribal Action Initiatives plan. This plan addresses their concerns, and is presented by them to tribal leaders, political experts, and policymakers while on Capitol Hill.
By using issue-centric, nonpartisan curriculum the program has been designed to provide participants with a stronger understanding of government institutions, history and current issues, and their roles as citizens. Close Up can even help students locally by providing professional development for educators, and classroom resources. Ultimately Close Up’s goal is to engage and inspire every person, young or old to find their voice and to help develop critical skills for youth in tackling the challenges and opportunities of the 21st century.
This program is just one of many that have helped the youth council understand the importance of Tribal Governments, history, political processes and the skills of leadership. By attending and participating — the program not only helps them grow as leaders, but it also allows them to be more involved within the tribal, educational and academic communities. “I have learned so much on this trip, everything from politics to how an office is run,” Young stated. “Close Up has helped me grow out of my comfort zone—it’s truly been an eye-opening experience, not only for me, but for everyone who attended.”
The Close Up teachers, staff and volunteers wished the best of luck to all the students and during the banquet dinner and shared sentiments of support. Each staff member expressed that they hope the youth will take away lessons from the program and will share them with others and use them to improve their own lives as well as the lives of people in their communities.
Much like the Close Up application process, to become a council leader there is a lengthy and in depth application that each potential council person must complete before being appointed. Currently there are seven seats that make up the Southern Ute’s Sunshine Cloud Smith Youth Advisory Council, which is open to all eligible Southern Ute youth ages 11-17.
Enrolled Southern Ute Youth tribal members can apply to join the council by contacting, Sunshine Cloud Smith Youth Advisory and Youth Employment Program Coordinator, Dustin Weaver at 970-563-2786 or via email email@example.com