This year marked the 73rd annual meeting of the National Congress of American Indians. Held in Phoenix, Arizona, the conference brought together hundreds of elected tribal leaders, community members, advocates and policymakers to discuss important current issues facing tribal communities. The conference included a special youth agenda, which provided opportunities for young people to learn about NCAI and its policy priorities, while developing skills to engage with those issues to impact change.
We first met with NCAI youth during the Native Vote Rally. The pep rally was a fun-filled event with music, a photo booth, cheer and costume competitions, and great food, all designed to excite everyone about “Getting Out the Native Vote”. NCAI is working hard to make sure Native youth know the power of the Native vote, and has created great resources to help young people get their friends, families and entire communities out to the polls. Visit www.nativevote.org to find out how you can help!
Later, CNAY’s Erik Stegman (Carry the Kettle First Nation) led a session on Native youth leadership opportunities alongside US Department of Agriculture’s Leslie Wheelock (Oneida Nation of Wisconsin). Leslie shared her journey to her current position as Director of the Office of Tribal Relations in the Office of the Secretary at USDA. She stressed the importance of Native youth getting involved in programs and opportunities that help strengthen our communities, and shared her love and pride for the work she does on behalf of tribes through her appointed position within the federal government.
After also sharing his story, Erik opened the discussion to hear from youth about the community issues they’re working to address, and the resources they both have and need to make a positive difference. We talked about suicide prevention, education, civic engagement, and much more. Many youth shared how the Generation Indigenous movement has helped them connect with other youth to find support and make an even bigger difference. Check out Gen-I on Twitter for an inside look at that discussion.
We wrapped up the week with a Youth & Elders roundtable, where elders shared stories of growing up, wrestling with identity, and using the strength of their cultures to support them through it all. Youth got to share their own perspectives on today’s issues, and found many similarities between their own challenges and those of the elders who spoke in the session. The event was hosted in partnership with the National Indian Council on Aging.
For more from this year’s NCAI Annual Meeting, check out #NCAI2016 on Twitter.