by Bettina Gonzalez, Outreach & Engagement Coordinator
Friday, July 14, 2017, National Conservation Training Center, WV —
“What does it mean to be an engaged citizen?”
Over the course of five days, 40 young leaders from across the U.S. and one from Hong Kong met at the National Conservation Training Center in Shepherdstown, WV to discuss this question and more.
These young leaders were part of the Children & Nature Network’s Natural Leaders’ 2017 Train the Trainer Summit. The purpose of the Summit was to develop young leaders in preparation for the expansion of the Fresh Tracks program, an outdoors-based leadership development expedition focused on developing civic engagement, hometown stewardship, workforce development, and cultural competency. Fresh Tracks began as a joint initiative began by the Children & Nature Network and partners, and now involving the Center for Native American Youth (CNAY) and Generation Indigenous (Gen-I).
Joining the Natural Leaders Network are five Gen-I Youth Ambassadors selected by CNAY for their active engagement in their communities. Throughout the week-long training in West Virginia, the Gen-I Ambassadors repeatedly stole the spotlight in every workshop and activity. They eagerly jumped into the program, and during the first full day of training’s Culture Share portion, all five Gen-I Ambassadors presented traditions from their cultures including social games, dances, prayers, songs, and more.
It was truly an invaluable opportunity for these young Native leaders to share their cultures and perspective with a diverse group of other young leaders, many of whom were unaware of the challenges of Indian Country. At the same time, the diversity of the program also allowed for the Gen-I Ambassadors to expand their network of support and build coalitions with other youth. While other Natural leaders were somewhat unfamiliar with indigenous communities, it became evident throughout the week that sharing perspectives in a safe space helped both sides realize a shared struggle and desire to change their communities for the better.
“I was able to really enjoy the incredible diversity among all of the participants and trainers. We all learned so many new strategies, listened to so many stories, and experienced new cultures from around the country and the rest of the world,” says Gen-I Ambassador Tyler Campbell (Choctaw Nation).
Anthony Tamez (Sicangu Lakota/First Nation Wuskwi sipihk Cree), another Gen-I Ambassador now a part of the Natural Leaders Network, adds, “[The Train the Trainer Summit] was an amazing experience not only because I met like-minded people but because I got an experience of a lifetime I made new friends and also made new connections to expand my network to help with the work that I am doing in my community”
What’s more, the training provided vastly contributed to the continued development of our five Gen-I Ambassadors. As a result of a session on the power of personal narratives for instance, all five Gen-I Ambassadors were inspired to produce a video together addressing the misrepresentation of Native Americans in the media and retaking control of their narratives.
Watch their video below:
“The training shifted my mindset from think of my leadership position as a job to thinking about it as a blessed opportunity,” says Gen-I Ambassador Megan LaRose (Navajo Nation). “I have begun the steps of making change and all of these wonderful individuals showed me that change is possible as long as we work together.”
Five days may not seem like a long time, but at the end of the week, it became apparent that the Summit and being involved in Fresh Tracks had an impact on all the young leaders in attendance. Beyond the leadership development, sincere relationships and friendships were cultivated, creating a stronger network of young movers and shakers across the country. As Gen-I Ambassador Trenton Casillas-Bakeberg (Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe) puts it, “going to [the Summit] and Fresh Tracks for the first time, I didn’t really know what to expect. But the training camp was one of the best weeks of my life. Not only did I leave with more leadership skills under my belt, beautiful experiences, but many new friends that I will remember forever.”
Gen-I Ambassador Naelyn Pike (San Carlos Apache Tribe) adds, “Fresh Tracks is an overall amazing program, for young and diverse leaders to work together to create change. Fresh Tracks is family.”
Meet the Gen-I Ambassadors:
Trenton Casillas-Bakeberg, Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe
Hometown: Rapid City, SD
Trenton is co-founder of the One Mind Youth Movement, a group that formed in response to youth suicide clusters on the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation. The group mobilized to oppose environmental threats like the Keystone XL Pipeline, and later went on to form one of the first camps at Standing Rock in protest to the Dakota Access Pipeline. Trenton is currently working with his tribal government to establish a drug- and alcohol- free safe house in his community to help reach reservation youth in crisis.
Naelyn Pike, San Carlos Apache Tribe
Hometown: San Carlos, AZ
Naelyn is Chiricahua Apache and is enrolled in the San Carlos Apache Tribe, two hours east of Phoenix, AZ. A recent graduate from Globe High School, she will be attending Mesa Community College in the fall. Caring for her elders has always been a part of her life, to learn stories of the Apache way of life. Connecting with her peers has also always been a priority, to come together for the betterment of future generations. In her short lifetime, she has continued to fight for human rights, and protecting sacred sites. She is now the spokesperson of the Apache Stronghold, which works to protect all sacred land and all people in this world from corporate entities. She believes in life and in the hope for a better world for our future children. In her short years, she knows she has so much still to learn but her passion is to protect land, water, and our collective right to freedom.
Tyler Campbell, Choctaw Nation
Hometown: Durant, OK
Tyler is from the Choctaw Nation in Oklahoma and is currently attending a local college for basic courses and plans to transfer to pursue a double major in Theatre and Communications. In high school, he began competing in the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association (OSSAA) with Lincoln-Douglas debate, which he eventually became co-captain for. Through his experience with OSSAA, Tyler also got involved in theater, and through theater, he developed his leadership skills, stepped out of his comfort zone, built his confidence, and learned to work under high stress situations. He then applied his debate and theater experience by participating in the Choctaw Nation Youth Advisory Board (CNYAB) and using his skills to help his community. Tyler eventually became the representative of his chapter, then moved on to be Vice Chair for the entire CNYAB.
Anthony Tamez, Sicangu Lakota/First Nation Wuskwi sipihk Cree
Hometown: Chicago, IL
A change agent of Chicago, Anthony is Sicangu Lakota, First Nation Wuskwi sipihk Cree, and Black. As the Co-President of Chi-nations Youth Council (CYNC), Anthony aspires to uphold CYNC mission to create a safe space for Native youth through arts, activism, and education. Anthony often hosts workshops and educates students at prestigious universities such as Northwestern University, University of Illinois at Chicago, and Loyola University Chicago about Native peoples. He also has had his work highlighted and interviewed in many publications in the Chicago area and across the nation. In addition, Anthony is the President and founder of his high school’s first Native American Club, and Vice President of E-news. Anthony’s achievements include the Citywide American Indian Education of Chicago’s Grass dance award for “Leading the way for other youth” and the American Indian Center of Chicago award for “Outstanding Volunteerism.”
Megan LaRose, Navajo Nation
Hometown: Mesa, AZ
Ya’at’eeh! Megan LaRose is a member of the Navajo Nation. She graduated from Mountain View High School in Mesa, AZ and is currently going to school at ASU where she studies Political Science with a goal to continue practicing law. Right now, her main goal is to connect with youth across Indian Country so that they can come together and create stronger impacts in their own communities. The ultimate goal is to be part of the generation of Native American youth that reclaims their indigenous identity.
For more information about the Fresh Tracks program, visit the Children & Nature Network Blog.