Native Village 
Youth and Education News

October, 2013

Five Native American “Champions” Call for Change
Condensed by Native Village

Top, from left to right: Joaquin Gallegos, Vance Home Gun and Dahkota Brown.
Bottom, left to right: Sarah Schilling and Cierra Fields.

United Nations: "Champions for Change” is a program run by the Center for Native American Youth, a non-profit organization in Washington.

While Native Americans make up about 1
½% of the U.S. population, they account for 12% of the homeless population, said Erin Bailey, CNAY's director.

“Through this program we wanted to create a narrative about what was really working within the community, and share inspirational stories that are impacting people’s lives,” Bailey said.

Champions for Change honored 5 Native youth for their services to the community. From healthcare to education, these “champions” range from 14 - 22 years old.

Sarah Schilling often greets her fellow tribal members with: “Aanii Sarah Schilling n’diznakaas!"  It translates to " 'Hello, Sarah is my name’ in English,” she said. “The language is called Anishnaabemowin, the Odawa native language.”

Sarah belongs to the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians. In 2009, she and her peers decided to organize  the tribe’s first youth council. And it wasn't easy. Schilling and other council members had to create their own constitution, bylaws and code of conduct.

Schilling now organizes retreats and conferences to address issues that Native teens grapple with, including   drinking and suicide prevention.

“I guess young people from the tribe are confused as to what their role is as Native Americans,” Schilling said.

Sarah acknowledges that straddling two worlds can be a challenge.  She also thinks the U.S. educational system often depicts Native Americans as “aggressive and bad guys”.

There’s more to Native Americans than beads and feathers. In urban settings, Native teens have a hard time fitting in, said Schilling, who chose home schooling after 6th grade.

Cierra Fields is another “champion”.  Cierra was born with melanoma and conquered cancer when she was barely 5 years.  Now the 14-year-old citizen of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma uses her personal story to encourages others to talk about cancer. She also shares tips on preventing cancer.

For the audience, Fields’ story is a huge wake-up call.

“Some of the young people are shocked when I tell them that I had melanoma,” Cierra said. “When I share my story they realize that one could get melanoma even when they are really young.”

Fields is also part of the Cherokee Nation Youth Choir and can speak conversational Cherokee.

Vance Home Gun, a 19-year-old from Arlee, Montana, is raising awareness about the Salish language, which he says is dying. Gun belongs to the Confederated Salish & Kootenai Tribes. Every Sunday, Gun teaches the Salish language to those interested in learning it.  He also helps create Salish language curriculum for public schools.

Gun believes that language is more than communication. It's also an integral part of culture.

“Salish is spoken by 40 to 50 people. Therefore, it is very important to keep our culture alive through our language,” said Gun. Vance plans to major in linguistics and anthropology in college

Dahkota Brown's aspirations extend beyond law school.  “I want to be a tribal judge, possibly the first United States Supreme Court judge who is a Native American,” said Brown, a member of the Wilton Miwok tribe.

Brown, a 14-year-old from California, started a study group called Native Education Raising Dedicated Students (NERDS). NERD helps Native American students with their grades in schools.  His goal is  to“instill confidence” among students who approach the group for help.

An article about high suicide and dropout rates among Native youth triggered the idea for Brown's project. “Also, I noticed that Native American students around me weren’t doing well in school,” he said. “Bullying and criticism could kill their self-confidence,”

Brown himself has been a victim of bullying. He was teased as “a girl” for his long hair.

“There is a custom in my family according to which I cannot cut my hair until someone in my family dies. Other students did not understand this when I tried to explain,” he said.

His peers also disapproved of his dress. “I love wearing feathers on my hat and Native American shirts. Therefore I stood out because of my traditional regalia and people would make fun of me,” Brown said.

Joaquin Gallegos from Colorado doesn’t mince words. He says the United States has not done justice to internationally recognized treaties made with Indigenous sovereign Nations.

“Since the U.S. has not fulfilled these obligations, negative outcomes are seen in virtually all sectors of these populations including education, economic conditions, and health status,” said Gallegos, a member of the Jicarilla Apache Nation and Pueblo of Santa Ana. “This is the legal and political reasoning behind the conditions present in the U.S. indigenous population.”

One of the “champions” awarded for his work, Gallegos is part of a project that aims at improving the oral health status of Indian Tribes in the Southwest United States.

This 22-year-old also wants to work toward providing Native Americans with improved healthcare facilities.


Champions for Change
 2013 Honorable Mentions

Thomas Baker (Kikiktagruk and Nana)
18 years old; Kotzebue, Alaska
Thomas is involved in the Teck John Baker Youth Leaders program  to reduce youth suicides by empowering peer leaders to influence others in schools

Deandra Balatche (Mescalero Apache Tribe)
19 years old; Mescalero, New Mexico
As reigning Miss Mescalero Apache, Deandra is a role model in her community, inspiring youth to get involved in clubs, sports and other activities. She frequently travels, serving as an ambassador for her tribe.

David Colbert (Muscogee - Creek)
21 years old; Norman, Oklahoma
David is a member of the American Indian Student Association at the University of Oklahoma. He engages UO Native students through social, communal, and educational support as well as culturally significant events
Graham Beyale (Navajo)
23 years old; Shiprock, New Mexico
Graham established the Northern Dine Youth Committee, a group that completes service projects, cultural events, fundraisers and youth meetings. His initiative has received a number of awards, including the “New Mexico Governor’s Youth Service.”
Raffinand Roberts (Nooksak)
17 years old; Deming, Washington
Raffinand promotes the importance of education through mentorship and leading by example. She shows that academic success can be achieves by improving grades and through extracurricular activities.
Baahh-Nazshonnii Brown-Almaweri (Navajo)
17 years old; Oakland, California
Baahh-Nazshonnii is a peer educator for the Living by Sacred Colors Program and leads talking circles for Daughters of Tradition’s. Baah-Nazshonnii mentors younger children in various community programs.
Shania Cook (Western Shoshone Tribe)
20 years old; Elko, Nevada
Shania interns at the California Trail Interpretive Center and is committed to preserving her tribe’s culture, language and traditions. She is involved in cultural programs such as storytelling, basket weaving, weapon making, shelter building, and more.

Jonathan Derryberry (Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs)
21 years old; Portland, Oregon
Jonathan promotes trust and responsibility between levels of government and his community. He promotes healthy relations among community members by participating in Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and Suicide Prevention trainings.

Naomi Edenshaw (Klinquet, Haida)
15 years old; St. Paul Island, Alaska
Naomi holds various student leadership roles in school and motivates her peers to continue their education and reach their full potential. She continues to develop her leadership skills and invites students to get involved.
Kelsey Girty (Cherokee)
19 years old; Warner, Oklahoma
Kelsey promotes education and mentorship among her peers in her community. She travels to football games and talks to young Native  students about the importance of education while offering her guidance as a mentor.
Vincent Grant (Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa)
19 years old; Belcourt, North Dakota
Vincent founded Turtle Mountain Dance for Change to help create a positive alterNative outlet for young people in his community. He  helps organize keynote speakers, activities, and exercises for youth  about substance abuse prevention, diabetes awareness, and teen pregnancy.
Ciarra Greene (Nez Perce)
24 years old; Tempe, Arizona
Ciarra promotes culture as a foundation for learning. She has participated in numerous leadership activities that enable her to mentor and inspire youth.
Gykayla Gregg (Lower Sioux Agency)
15 years old; Redwood Falls, Minnesota
Gykayla is passionate about culture and language preservation in her community.  She encourages youth involvement though   speeches about Dakota history, culture and identify as a nation.

Kenaba Hatathilie (Navajo)
16 years old; Kirtland, NM
Kenaba is a school and community leader who promotes Navajo culture and traditional knowledge among her peers. A member of the Dine Youth Council, Kenaba worked with other youth groups to create an organization called, “Together We Rise” to prevent suicide, drug use and domestic violence across the Navajo Nation.

Kelly Holmes (Lakota)
22 years old; Federal Height Colorado
Kelly founded Native Max Magazine, a publication that promotes Native unity by featuring Native American talent in entertainment, beauty, health and fitness, and more.
Ridge Howell (Muscogee Creek)
17 years old; Council Hill, Oklahoma
Ridge played a lead role in applying for a grant with Future Farmers of America to build a community garden. Produce harvested from this garden is gifted to community elders through the senior citizen center.
Pablo John (Navajo Nation)
23 years old; Teec Nos Pos, Arizona
Pablo established the Indigenous Leaders of Albuquerque club to unify Native organizations at the University of New Mexico, to promote higher education, and to develop future leaders in Indian Country.
Kurtis Kelly (Nooksak Indian Tribe)
20 years old; Deming, Washington
Kurtis is leader that uses hip hop performances and workshops to send positive messages to reduce thoughts of suicide, drug use and promote community. His music gives youth hope and an opportunity to express themselves.

Koleyna Kohler (Hupa, Yurok, Karuk)
19 years old; Forestville, California
Koleyna organized and established her high school’s first Native American Club to help increase awareness of Native American culture and presence to combat negative stereotypes. She uses media to educate her peers on the result of stereotypes.

Keeli Kotchik (Warm Springs)
18 years old; Portland, Oregon
Keeli volunteers to teach community dance classes that focus on encouragement and traditional values. She believes that connecting to culture creates a sense of self-worth which helps peers steer clear from negative lifestyles.

Megan LaRose (Navajo)
15 years old; Scottsdale, Arizona
Megan pioneered a initiative to create a backpack drive to help the reservation's low income students afford school supplies. The initiative was adopted by her class, and more than 200 backpacks and gift cards were raised.

Kisha Lee (Calista)
18 years old; Anchorage, Alaska
Kisha is a member of the Teens Acting Against Violence program, teaches youth how to maintain healthy relationships, acquire life skills and respect each other. The group makes movies and sponsors sporting events that promote healthy relationships.

Lyle Lehmann (Rosebud Sioux Tribe)
17 years old; Rapid City, South Dakota
Lyle mentors youth through coaching community sports programs. He notes that coaching athletic activities provides him and his participants with a healthy social outlet, as well as a constructive stress reliever for the daily obstacles that many youth face.

Jared Massey (White Mountain Apache)
20 years old; Fort Apache, Arizona
As White Mountain Apache Youth Council Co-President, Jared implemented a successful program called the President’s Suicide Awareness Campaign. Jared also serves as Co-President of UNITY and NCAI’s Youth Commission.

Katie McDonald (Confederated Salish Kootenai Tribes)
24 years old; Portland, Oregon
In an effort to reduce exposure of Native youth and women to toxic found in fish tissues, Katie organized an investigation to compare tribal contaminant levels to state-enforced fish consumption advisories. Katie’s work led to a new fish consumption advisory group.
Christian McGhee (Yankton Sioux)
23 years old; Pine Ridge, South Dakota
Christian graduated from high school in 2008 and received his bachelor’s degree in Sports and Recreation Management before returning home to serve as the Athletic Director. Christian plans to create a strong support system through sport.
Anna Melovidov (Aleut)
19 years old; St. Paul Island, Alaska
Anna is an active member of the Future Educators of Alaska program which helps Native students reach their full academic potential and educational success, through scholarship and mentorship. She teaches Aleut culture, art and language.
Maka Monture (Tlingit)
19 years old; Anchorage, Alaska
Maka created an organization at her university called “Natives for Positive Change” to provide education and training opportunities for community members and peers to learn about Alaska Native politics, social science, culture, natural resources, and more.
Rebekah Navarro (Prairie Band Potawatomi)
15 years old; Mayetta, Kansas
Rebekah works to encourage and motivate her peers to continue their path to higher education. Rebekah played a major role in organizing the Haskell Indian Nations University’s Upward Bound Program to encourage young Native youth in education.

Shawn “White Pine” Packard (Abenaki)
15 years old; Winslow, Maine
Shawn is committed to promoting health and wellness among his peers. He works to combat substance abuse in his tribal community in Maine.

Stephanie Padilla (Isleta Pueblo)
18 years old; Albuquerque, NM
Stephanie promotes cultural preservation as a way to prevent substance abuse, teen pregnancy, and suicide in her community. She created a “Cultural Preservation Day” at a pueblo school in 2011, which was recognized by MTV and Above the Influence.
Sunshine Perry (Shoshone-Bannock)
20 years old; Bayfield, Colorado
As reigning Miss Hizhoni, Suhshine works with youth to promote cultural education and preservation. Sunshine works at Boys and Girls clubs teaching youth how to make ribbon shirts, shawls and other culturally significant crafts.
Amber Quequesah (Salish and Kootenai)
17 years old; Elmo, Montana
Amber works to engage her peers in cultural traditions by teaching the Kootenai language to help revive the culture and create new respect between adults and children.
Lauren Schad (Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe)
18 years old; Rapid City, South Dakota
Lauren is an active participant in an educational mentorship program called Cobbler to Cobbler where upper-class high school students mentor incoming freshman. The upperclassmen provide tutoring, in addition to insightful advice about high schoo
Cheyenne Stone (Big Pine Paiute Tribe)
24 years old; Big Pine, California
Cheyenne is dedicated to creating environments that value education and inspire families and students. Cheyenne created the INSPIRE initiative to support education through the development of strong family and school partnerships.
Destiny Sullens (Choctaw)
24 years old; Durant, Oklahoma
Destiny plays a major role in the STAR (Student Success Through Academic Recognition) initiative to recognize academic excellence. Destiny leads by example by becoming the first child in her family to graduate from college.
Makayla Syas (Shinnecock)
19 years old; Southampton, New York
Makayla is passionate about natural resources and plans to give back to her community by continuing her work with the Shinnecock Oyster Hatchery. She hopes to return to her reservation to teach students about nature and Shinnecock culture.
Lexi Tiger (Muscogee)
15 years old; Madison, Wisconsin
Lexi started a breast cancer prevention and awareness program called the Junior Pink Shawls. In addition to raising cancer awareness, the program offers cultural activities and training on how to maintain healthy lifestyles and high self-esteem.
Claullen Tillman (Eastern Shoshone)
17 years old; Lander, Wyoming
Claullen established the Wind River UNITY youth council which helps to combat issues facing youth, including substance abuse. The group conducts several service projects and fundraisers to send youth leaders to the National UNITY conference.
Joshua Tso (Navajo)
24 years old; Mesa, Arizona                         
Joshua is a youth leader in his community and has been involved in youth councils and organizations like United National Indian Tribal Youth. Joshua now works to encourage and engage his younger peers in leadership opportunities.
Skye Wapskineh (Prairie Band Potawatomi)
14 years old; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Skye promotes Native pride in his community and encourages peers to get involved in activities to learn more about their culture and language.
Brian Weeden (Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe)
20 years old; Hyannis, Massachusetts
Brian formed the Mashpee Wampanoag Youth Council in 2009 which organizes initiatives to connect with elders, health promotion, and language preservation. Brian is also involved in writing an application to open a Language Immersion School in 2015.
Ernest Weston (Oglala Sioux)
18 years old; Porcupine, SD
Ernest founded the Oglala Lakota Youth Council to create new opportunities for youth in his community. Ernest’s goal is to advocate for youth and make a better reservation for the future generations
Tori Whipple (Rosebud Sioux Tribe)
34 years old; Mission, South Dakota
Tori helps lead efforts with the Tokala Inajinyo Program, a suicide prevention mentoring program geared towards creating peer mentors to become resources for their schools and communities.
Christie Wildcat (Northern Arapaho)
14 years old; Riverton, Wyoming
Christie created a youth service group called the Wind River All Action Crew which allows youth as young as 4 years old to participate in community outreach activities. The group makes seasonal trips to nursing homes.
Crystal Demientieff Worl (Tlingit/Athabascan)
24 years old; Anchorage, Alaska
Crystal promotes higher education and cultural preservation through art. She shares her message of healthy lifestyles through her art and cultural storytelling at tribal colleges, elementary schools, Indian markets as well as Gathering of Nations.
WhiteSun Yazzie (Navajo)
17 years old; Pine Hill, NM
WhiteSun leads by example. He is actively involved in student council, sports and serves as a youth representative on a Parent Involvement Committee. His leadership efforts create positive relationships between the school and community.


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