6th Annual Youth Leadership Conference at Red Lake - P2
Hundreds of young people attended the Sixth Annual Red Lake Youth Leadership Conference held Tuesday through Thursday, March 27-29, 2012 at Red Lake High School. The conference theme this year was "Miikanaakeyang Giniigaanayi'iiminaan" (Making a Path for Our Future).
On Tuesday, the first day of the conference, motivational speaker Arnold Thomas presented the keynote address at 9:30 a.m., as well as a workshop during the first session of the conference. Thomas' presence was the initiative of the Red Lake Nation Youth Council in response to all of the suicide seen over the years. Thomas is also a suicide survivor. He attempted suicide at age 18 which left him blind and disfigured.
A surprise late addition to the conference was American Indian motivational speaker and actor Adam Beach who gave the key-note address on Wednesday, the second day of the conference. Beach spoke of a difficult childhood and how he overcame that challenge.
Workshops and presentations were held from 8:30 AM to 3:00 PM Tuesday and Wednesday, and until noon on Thursday. As usual, several things happened simultaneously. Topics included suicide prevention, drug abuse, and teen pregnancy. In addition to the workshops, there was a youth basketball tournament, skateboard competition, entertainment, banquet, door prizes and hip hop concert. An “Honor the Youth Pow-wow” closed out the activities on the weekend of March 30 – April 1.
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 leadership events. According to organizers this conference had the most attendees ever.
This is the sixth year that the Red Lake Tribal Council, tribal programs and other organizations have sponsored this well received 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 and drum song was offered at the beginning of each days' activities in the High School Gymnasium. The conference facilitators were Chance Rush on Tuesday, Eddy Wadda on Wednesday, with Rush and Wadda tag-teaming on Thursday.
On the first day, as part of the opening ceremony, 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 Red Lake Nation Youth Council, which has about a dozen members, was very much involved in putting together the three day Youth Leadership Conference.
Several local and guest motivational speakers...as well as Red Lake Elders...conducted workshops on culture, language, traditional values, leadership, teen pregnancy, 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.
Day One Highlights
After opening ceremonies, the near capacity crowd got a very sobering presentation by guest speaker and Suicide Survivor Arnold Thomas To Kick-off Red Lake Youth Conference. His Suicide Prevention Presentation was entitled "I Want to Live." Thomas did a similar presentation the evening before — for the community — at the Humanities Center.
Thomas (Shoshone-Paiute) shared a powerful message regarding suicide prevention and intervention. Thomas is a suicide survivor. He attempted suicide at age 18 which left him blind and disfigured. In a very serious presentation laced with humor, Thomas shared his story, the depression, the act, and how he came back to want to live.
"One warm summer night soon after I turned 18, I stuck a hunting rifle under my chin and pulled the trigger," Thomas told the crowd. "The gun shot wound severely damaged my face and left me completely blind. I was unable to speak for several years. With the steadfast support of my hometown community, my family and my friends along with my own renewed will to live, I survived this challenging period of my life and slowly began to put the shattered pieces back together."
Arnold has been involved in developing curriculum for substance abuse and suicide prevention and intervention programs on the local and national levels. He was a member of the National Institute of Health’s C-SAT (Center for Substance Abuse Treatment) work group. He assisted in creating cultural sensitive materials for the Indian Health services’ Emergency Medical Services for Children in Washington DC He also served as a spiritual advisor for Native American inmates incarcerated in the Utah State Correctional system.
Arnold recently served as the project coordinator for the Circle of Hope through Volunteers of America where he worked with homeless Native Americans. Additionally, he is the spiritual advisor for inpatient substance abusers at the George E. Whalen Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Salt Lake City.
Thomas also offered a workshop during the second session of Day One of the conference for those who wanted to get a little deeper into this heartbreaking issue.
An all Native American High School Basketball tournament closed out the afternoon, with a Hip-Hop concert in the evening at the Red Lake Humanities Center. The Facilitator was Chance Rush Presenting: Chief Swagg, and "Emcee One" Christian Parrish.
Day Two Highlights
Keynote Speaker: Adam Beach
Adam Beach may be one of the more recognizable American Indian actors in the North America. But somewhat surprisingly he is also a motivational speaker. Beach spends a fair amount of his time traveling around visiting reservations to share his story about a troubled childhood and how he overcame adversity.
"We need unity to make things better," said the 28-year old Beach. "Plant the seed now, what is your passion? I lost my parents at 8 years old, I'm already damaged, but I made up my mind to go to Hollywood. You can do whatever you make up your mind to do, and you must do it."
It was standing room only for those who wished to see and hear this "star." His message was strong, and it was pleasing to see that fame had not influenced Beach to the point where he'd forgotten where he came from. He is a traditional, and demonstrated that not only by his presence at such an event, but by using several Algonquin words. He also sang and played the hand drum.
Beach says he hopes to buy and create a Native studio where he hopes to teach young Indian film enthusiasts how to make movies. "We've all got a story to tell, I want you to write it down and I'm going to film it," said Beach. "I am traditional. We are caretakers of Mother Earth, non-Indians like to portray us that way, and that is because we are in the hearts and minds of people. We need to do something with that, we can tell our stories not only around campfires, but through movies. What did Jewish people do when they wanted to get peoples attention to their plight? They created a studio."
"The studio I buy isn't going to be about making money," says Beach, "it's going to be about education and telling our many stories. You'll come to my studio, we'll set you up with all the equipment you need, and then we'll give you a half hour on one of my cable stations."
Canadian Saulteaux actor Adam Beach was raised on the Dog Creek First Nations Reserve with his two brothers. A troubled childhood saw his mother killed by a drunk driver and his alcoholic father drowned only weeks after. Beach and his two brothers went to live with their grandmother and then with their uncle and aunt in Winnipeg where Adam joined drama classes and began acting in local theatre productions.
Beach started out as a stand-up comic. Since then he has appeared in over 60 TV and Film roles. His performance in the Academy Award nominated Clint Eastwood - directed Flags of Our Fathers (2006) was phenomenal. He played Ira Hayes, a Pima Native American Marine, and one of the six to raise the American flag on Iwo Jima, who found the resulting fame hard to handle - subsequently giving way to alcoholism.
Beach said in an interview that his break out film was "Windtalkers," a film with Nicolas Cage about the Navajo Code Talkers of World War II. He also starred in the TV movie "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee," based on the novel by Dee Brown.
He headlined the cast in the Walt Disney production Squanto: A Warrior's Tale (1994), featured in John Singleton's Four Brothers (2005) and starred with Harrison Ford and 'Daniel Craig' in the science fiction-western smash hit Cowboys & Aliens (2011). He has starred in "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" and HBO's "Big Love". Many Red Lakers may remember Beach from his performance in the American Indian produced "Smoke Signals."
Beach took time to sign autographs and have his photo taken for more than an hour after his key-note presentation and kept a smile on his face all the while. It took his Red Lake entourage fifteen minutes to get him out of the school as there was always one more autograph or photo to be taken. Beach was given a tour of Red Lake Headquarters building where he found himself again mobbed now by an "older fan" base. Finally he was able to get back to the Seven Clans Hotel for a much needed rest.
After another session of workshops, at 2 P.M., a General Assembly was held in the High School gym featuring a special performance by hypnotist Robert Johnston. The popular and humorous Johnston, a professional hypnotist, closed out the days 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. Johnston’s show has been a highly attended attraction at the youth conference over the past years.
?An Awards Banquet was held in the early evening at Seven Clans Casino & Event Center with Emcee Robert Johnston who soon had everyone laughing and enjoying the evening.
Awards presentations were provided by Red Lake Youth Council president Shauntay Roy. This was followed by Guest Performer, Inez Jasper “Soulsinggirl” who brought down the house with her beautiful singing voice. Next was a time for humor with comedian Mylo Smith (Crow Creek Dakota Sioux), who was joined soon afterward by Red Lake's very own home-grown comedian Tito Ybarra.
Prize drawings closed out the evening with Adam Beach making a surprise reappearance to help Johnston hand out the prizes, sign a few more autographs, and have his photo taken with fans. Those who completed evaluation forms for up to five workshops, were given tickets for the drawing of some top notch prizes.
Day Three: Closing
Closing Ceremonies were conducted by Youth Conference Facilitators Chance Rush & Eddie Wadda. After a prayer, smudge, and drum, there was an All Star Presentation from the team of BALLISLIFE (basketball) entertainment. Awards were given out to the All Indian Tournament winners. Closing Remarks followed by the conference Presenters and then a Closing Circle.
After lunch, basketball continued for the rest of the day with an All Star Game/3 Point Shoot Out at Red Lake Humanities with BALLISLIFE Entertainment. Skateboard Competition took place at Red Lake High School, with the week closing out with an Honor the Youth Pow-wow taking place over the weekend.
Sessions By Guest Motivational Speakers
“The key to living a ‘well life’ is balance'," said Chance Rush (Three Affiliated Tribes-Hidatsa) (along with Chief Swagg & Emcee One) in his session billed as “Elements of Life”. “As community leaders, we can encourage that balance in others by being an example ourselves," he said. “Wellness is a gift that needs attention and commitment. It doesn’t mean we won’t have our frustrating moments," said Rush, “but we can accomplish anything we set our minds to by implementing our social, mental, physical and emotional greatness.”
Edward “Eddy” Wadda (Eastern Shoshone), conducted a workshop entitled “P.O.W.E.R. Rez Style”. 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 Inez Jasper in a workshop appropriately billed as “Teen Pregnancy”. While addressing real life stress and chaos, Jasper 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.
A presentation and delivery style nothing short of captivating, and dubbed “Native American Culture & Hip Hop” was conducted by Christian Takes Gun Parrish aka “Supaman”(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. Parrish’s 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.
“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!”
New this year was a workshop on "Gangs" with Garfield Steele and Jerome LeBeaux. (Oglala Lakota Nation) They had a strong message about gang life. Garfield is an ex-gang member who experienced gang life at age 14. Now he is the legislative liaison to his tribes president and has served on the Oglala Sioux Tribal Council from the Wounded Knee District.
Sessions By Red Lake Members/Professionals
Karen Barrett, (Red Lake Band of Chippewa) conducted a session entitled "Mii Kawaadiziwag Oshkiniigikweg/Beautiful Young Women.” Karen presented a session on Women’s Values.
"How Alcohol Affected My Life" with Peter Ybarra (Red Lake Band of Chippewa) was a humorous but serious workshop. Peter is a stand-up comedian, but his message to youth is powerful.
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.
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) "Fact or Crap," and questions based on the "Twilight" series. Salena Branchaud and Charlene Defoe hosted the fun.
The impetus for the Youth Leadership Conference occurred after the formation of the Red Lake Nation Youth Council more than seven years ago. The group began looking for ways to teach leadership skills, and to celebrate the accomplishments of the Nation’s youth academically and in other ways. (Over 65% of our Native population is under the age of twenty-five.)
The Youth Leadership Conference was hosted by the Red Lake School District and sponsored by the following organizations; Red Lake Tribal Council, Red Lake School District, Chemical Health Programs, Indian & Free Prevention/Treatment Program, and Youth Recreation Department.