Hundreds Participate in Red Lake Youth Leadership Conference
Teachings of Culture for the Nation¹s Youth
The Fifth Annual Red Lake Youth Leadership Conference was held on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday April 26, 27, and 28, 2011 at Red Lake High School. The conference theme this year was "Culture: The Key to our Future". And in keeping with that theme, the thesis was translated into Ojibwemowin or "Anishinaabe-izhichigewin: Giniigaanayi¹iiminaan". Workshops and presentations were held from approximately 9 AM to 3 PM each day. As is
customary, several things were happening simultaneously.
In addition to the three days of workshops, the week-plus activities included a youth all-native basketball tournament at 3:30 PM each day. Entertainment in the evening included a Round Dance Social on Tuesday with a
special "one man" hand drum contest in both Cree and Ojibwe styles. Wednesday evening featured Native Hip Hop for entertainment featuring "Smoke" (Jason Nichols), "Wahwahtaybenais" (George Goggleye), and "Supaman"
(Christian Takes Gun Parrish). Both evenings¹ entertainment took place at the Red Lake Humanities Center.
An awards banquet with door prizes followed the Wednesday session, and an "Honor the Youth Pow-wow" closed out the activities on the weekend of April 29 - May1.
Conferees came from miles around to participate in all or part of the three days of proceedings. Students and others from Leech Lake, White Earth, Bemidji, the Bug School, and other schools participated in the youth
This is the fifth year that the Red Lake Tribal Council, tribal programs and other organizations have sponsored this much anticipated event for the youth of Red Lake Nation and others. A host of Red Lake member professionals, and well known guest speakers from across Indian Country, joined together to share their knowledge in leadership skills to motivate youth, and to promote native values, tradition, and language.
THREE DAYS OF LEARNING AND FUN
An Opening Prayer/Smudge was offered at the beginning of each days activities in the High School Gymnasium by Eugene Stillday on Tuesday, Melvin Jones on Wednesday, and Collins Oakgrove on Thursday. The Drum for all three days was Little Bear. The conference facilitators were Chance Rush on Tuesday, Eddy Wadda on Wednesday, and Jason "Smoke" Nichols on Thursday.
On the first day, as part of the opening ceremony, Chance Rush (Three Affiliated Tribes ¬ Hidatsa) set the pace for the conference by encouraging youth to pursue their dreams, to value education, and to share what they learn with others. "This is your community, your home and your story", said Rush to those assembled.
First day opening ceremonies continued with welcome remarks by Red Lake Chairman Floyd Jourdain, Jr., and Youth Council President Shauntay Roy. The Guest Speakers were school superintendent Brent Gish and School Board member and Director of Red Lake Chemical Health Programs, Tom Barrett. The opening activities concluded with a presentation by Youth Council President Shauntay Roy and Youth Council Members. The Youth Council, which has about a dozen members, was involved in putting together the three day Youth Leadership Conference.
Guest Speakers for Day Two were spiritual advisors Eugene Stillday and Carol Barrett. Guest speakers for Day Three were conference presenters Eddy Wadda and Chance Rush.
Several local and guest motivational speakers...as well as Red Lake Elders...conducted workshops on culture, language, traditional values, leadership, and self-esteem over the three days. During the time of conference, assorted workshops were conducted, repeating themselves six times so that participants could be involved with most, if not all sessions.
SESSIONS BY GUEST MOTIVATIONAL SPEAKERS
"The key to living a Œwell life¹ is balance", said Chance Rush (Three Affiliated Tribes-Hidatsa) in his session billed as "Elements of Life". "As community leaders, we can encourage that balance in others by being an example ourselves. Wellness is a gift that needs attention and commitment. It doesn¹t mean we won¹t have our frustrating moments, but we can accomplish anything we set our minds to by implementing our social, mental, physical and emotional greatness."
Edward ³Eddy² Wadda (Eastern Shoshone), conducted a workshop entitled "Warriors Don¹t Quit". He shared his vision for Native Youth in the areas of history, leadership, culture, family, school, spirituality, and friendship. "Youth leaders serve as positive mentors in communities struggling to find a voice for their young people", he said. "It is my hope that you will join me and others in our journey to see true tribal empowerment for native people for generations to come."
A power packed approach to teen pregnancy, alcohol and drug abuse, self-worth, and decision making skills was provided by Melissa "Mimi" Nichols in a workshop appropriately billed as "Self Respect". While addressing real life stress and chaos, Nichols spoke of HOPE which she said will "ignite much needed compassion among youth at the same time fueling responsibility and respect".
Humor permeated a session dubbed "Living a Positive Lifestyle" and conducted by comedian and motivational speaker Mylo Smith (Crow Creek Dakota Sioux). Smith used comical aspects to talk about serious problems facing youth using himself as a model of his life experiences with alcohol, drugs, violence, and sexual abuse.
MUSIC SPEAKS/YOUTH LISTENS
"Everyone has a song that they know every word and can make them sing at the top of their lungs", says Jason Nichols aka "Smoke" (Nakota/Chippewa Cree) in a session entitled "Lyrical Healing". "This type of song, no matter where you are or what you are doing, can steal your total train of thought, and take you back to a place that puts a smile on your face every time you hear it". This was the prologue for Nichols presentation encouraging youth to express themselves through music, poetry, and art. "Imagine, if you will", said Nichols, "the pen you hold in your hand is your inner voice. The paper that sits in front of you is a friend...a very good friend who will listen and never pass judgment, never interrupt you, and will never need time to understand your feelings...now, you can speak freely. That is the magic of music, after you release this energy your healing process can begin", Nichols proclaimed.
A presentation and delivery style nothing short of captivating, and dubbed "Native American Culture & Hip Hop" was conducted by Christian Takes Gun Parrish aka ³Supaman² (Apsaalooke Nation, Crow Reservation). Supaman seems a misnomer when one listens to the humble American Indian rapper who has dedicated his life to empowering youth with a message of hope through his music. Parrish¹s animated style demands attention as he relates lessons learned through growing up in an alcoholic family and losing his father to suicide, a powerful weapon in reaching his listeners.
George Goggleye (rapper and entertainer) who prefers the use of his Indian name "Wahwahtay Benais" which means "Great Thunder Being that lives within the Northern Lights" (Leech Lake Ojibwe) conducted a workshop tagged as "Revitalization of Language & Tradition Through Hip Hop". Wahwahtay Benais demonstrated through videos and discussion how the power of music can be used to encourage interest of young people in the importance of language revitalization and culture. Wahwahtay Benais is a serious and most impressive young man.
"Healthy Relationships start with healthy individuals", says Robert Johnson, (Muskogee Creek/Choctaw) in a workshop labeled "Walking Together in a Good Way: A Guide to Healthy Relationships". The session looked at
characteristics of healthy and unhealthy relationships. "As native people we have a responsibility to ourselves, families and tribes, to try to be the best we can be, continue to learn our culture and traditions and to treat others kindly", he said. Johnston guided participants in discovering steps to strengthen relationships with friends, parents, siblings, teachers, the opposite sex, the earth, the Creator and "of course...you."
SESSIONS BY RED LAKE MEMBERS/PROFESSIONALS
Several sessions were conducted in the appropriately named Culture Room at the High School by elders who taught youth and adults of culture and language.
Eugene Stillday, (Red Lake Band of Chippewa) conducted several sessions on Language. From the community of Ponemah, Eugene is a spiritual and cultural advisor to the Red Lake Tribal Council. Fluent in Ojibwe, Eugene serves as the main Ojibwe language preservation expert with linguist Dr. John D. Nichols, a professor at the University of Minnesota. He also works with Dr. Anton Treuer and Nichols in the development of Ojibwemowin dictionaries.
Frances Miller, (Red Lake Band of Chippewa) Cultural Teachings. From the community of Ponemah, Frances is the coordinator for the Path of Life and Healthy Marriage/Relationships, the Well Being of Children.
Carol June Barrett, (Red Lake Band of Chippewa) Young Women¹s Pride. From the community of Ponemah, Carol presented a session on Women¹s Values. She talks one on one about depression and suicide.
Two popular session/workshops were not only educational, but just plain fun...and coincidently, just happened to be conducted by Red Lake professionals from the Chemical Health Programs.
Hand-drum making with Darren Defoe and Larry VanWert continued to be a very popular workshop several years running. Defoe and VanWert took a large group of participants through the process of making their own hand drums. This took the entire length of the conference, so participants showed up at the same room during each of the sessions.
And Rez Jeopardy, all agreed, was an extraordinary amount of fun. Billed as "just like the game show but about the Rez", sessions were always filled to capacity that included several adults. Contestants chose from categories
that included "Indianish", (questions about the Red Lake homeland) TV/Movies, Sponge Bob, and Miscellaneous. Salena Branchaud and Charlene Defoe hosted the fun, that included buzzers for the contestants.
Wednesday¹s conference closed with an Awards Banquet in late afternoon. Dinner included pasta, turkey, meat balls, salad, bread, soft drinks, and more. The program was hosted by Chance Rush, who had everyone laughing.
Basketball trophies, academic, and other awards were presented, with prize drawings closing out that part of the program. Those who completed evaluation forms for up to five workshops, were given tickets for the drawing of some top notch prizes. Keynote speaker for the banquet was George Goggleye, aka Wahwahtay Benais.
The evening¹s events concluded with entertainment comedian Mylo Smith, who draws his humor on those things unique to Indian Country and geared to youth. The popular and humorous Robert Johnston, a professional hypnotist closed out the evenings events. Johnston had the audience rolling in the aisles as he had a dozen people meeting their favorite celebrities, and other outrageous and comical stunts. Johnston¹s show has been a highly attended attraction at the youth conference over the past years.
Salena Branchaud, an enrolled member of Red Lake Nation, who has worked with Chemical Health for several years, said at the events conclusion; "I have always had a passion for working in this field", she said. Branchaud who is also a Youth Council Advisor said, "the Leadership Conference is not only to teach, but to help students head into the Summer feeling good about themselves".
The impetus for the Youth Leadership Conference occurred after the formation of the Red Lake Nation Youth Council more than six years ago. The group began looking for ways to teach leadership skills, and to celebrate the
accomplishments of the Nation¹s youth academically and in other ways. (Over 65% of our Native population is under the age of twenty-five).
The Youth Leadership Conference was sponsored by the following organizations; Red Lake Tribal Council, Red Lake School District, Chemical Health Programs, Indian & Free Prevention/Treatment Program, Pepsi Company,
and Youth Recreation Department.