Oklahoma City, OK—Thanks to an organization called UNITY, Native American youth across the country are taking charge of their lives by serving others. Many were inspired to do so after attending a National UNITY Conference. Three decades and seven years ago on April 16, 1976, United National Indian Tribal Youth, Inc. was incorporated in the State of Oklahoma. Commonly known by its acronym as UNITY, the organization is an outgrowth of a dropout prevention and cultural retention project funded by the Office of Indian Education.
UNITY has made a significant difference throughout Native America, having reached thousands of Native youth who are helping their reservations, villages and communities by establishing tutoring programs, dance troupes, clean up days, healthy lifestyles campaigns, to name a few. UNITY alumni numbers are in the tens of thousands and include prominent community leaders like Loretta Tuell, Nez Perce, an attorney and former Staff Director of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, Greg Mendoza, Governor of the Gila River Indian Community, and Dr. Darrell Mease, Cherokee, physician and owner of Mease Medical Clinic. Tuell, Mendoza and Mease serve on UNITY’s Board of Trustees.
The heart of UNITY is a youth council, which may be sponsored by a Tribe, Alaska Native village, high school, college, or urban center. The UNITY Network currently involves 140 affiliated youth councils in 28 states. Youth Council members are engaged in cultural preservation, environmental awareness, healthy lifestyles and community service projects.
The mission of UNITY is to foster the spiritual, mental, physical, and social development of American Indian and Alaska Native youth and to help build a strong, unified, and self-reliant Native America through greater youth involvement.
Highlights during UNITY’s 37 years of empowering Native youth include having survived 11 years without federal funds, a benefit concert by Willie Nelson & Family, a radio and newspaper commentary by Paul Harvey, coordination of the American Indian/Alaska Native YOUTH 2000 campaign, the Earth Ambassador program, posters of Native youth promoting healthy lifestyles, youth offering testimonies at Senate and House hearings, two national championship men’s basketball teams consisting of college athletes, mini basketball clinics, a project educating youth about tribal government, obesity- prevention programs, and the national UNITY conferences with keynote messages by Tipper Gore, Gen. Colin Powell, various tribal leaders along with appearances by Adam Beach, Danny Glover, and other celebrities.
What makes UNITY unique is that it is the only national Native organization with a network of affiliated youth councils, providing a structure for youth to collectively address concerns and issues. “Thanks to everyone who has been involved in UNITY. UNITY belongs to them,” said J. R. Cook, the organization’s Founder and Executive Director. “UNITY has survived because of tribes who have developed and sponsored their youth councils while also helping support UNITY’s conferences and youth initiatives.”
Loretta Tuell, chair of UNITY’s Council of Trustees added, “We appreciate the tribal leaders who recognize youth as a tremendous resource and involve them in building healthier, stronger tribes. We appreciate the hard work of J.R. Cook and we look forward to UNITY turning over a new leaf this summer when one of our alums Mary Kim Titla, San Carlos Apache, assumes the role as UNITY’s Executive Director.” Amira Madison, co-president of the National UNITY Council’s Executive Committee said, “”We are excited about UNITY’s future and upcoming conference with a theme that revolves around technology and how our youth communicate best, which is through texting, Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, and other blogs. We will be doing live twitter updates throughout the conference and we will be challenging youth with social media.”
The 2013 National UNITY Conference will be held July 12-16 at the Marriott Warner Hotel in Woodland Hills, CA. More information can be found at http://www.unityinc.org or by phoning the UNITY Office at (405) 236-2800.