Learning and Fun Marks 7th Annual Red Lake Youth Leadership Conference - P3

Dedicated to the Memory of Eddie Wadda


"My life changed when I put down the alcohol and drugs. Being honest keeps me, and will keep you, on the Red Road."

Hundreds of young people descended upon Red Lake High School for the Seventh Annual Red Lake Youth Leadership Conference held Wednesday and Thursday, May 1-2, 2013. The conference theme was "Warriors Don't Quit."

Conferees came from miles around to participate in all or part of the two day proceedings. Students and others from Leech Lake, White Earth, Bemidji, the Bug School, and other schools engaged in the youth leadership events.

Workshops and presentations were held from 8:30 AM to 3:00 PM Wednesday and Thursday. As usual, a variety of fun and learning events happened simultaneously. Topics included suicide prevention, drug abuse, and teen pregnancy. In addition there was entertainment by the Native Pride Dancers, a banquet, and door prizes.

The Conference again featured a special appearance by a famous American Indian Actor. This year Chaske Spenser (pronounced Chas-Kay), Sam from the Twilight Series movies, gave a motivational speech at about 2:00 pm on Thursday. Spenser would also key-note the Youth Conference Banquet at 5 pm. Spenser spoke of a difficult childhood and how he overcame that challenge. Last year prolific Indian actor Adam Beach was featured in a similar capacity.

This is the seventh 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 preeminent 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.

Day One Highlights

An Opening Prayer and drum song by Young Kingbird was offered at the beginning of each days' activities in the High School Gymnasium. The conference facilitator was Chance Rush. Chief Swagg & Emcee One filled the air with a variety of recorded music.

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 welcoming remarks by Red Lake Chairman Floyd Jourdain, Jr., and Red Lake Nation Youth Council President Chante' Hart. The Youth Council, with about a dozen members, is a key player in the organization of the three day Youth Leadership Conference.

Well known fancy dancer Larry Yazzie then took center court and gave a little pep talk about Native Pride. "Be proud of who you are, learn about your culture, history and language," said Yazzie. Yazzie's talk was followed by a dance exhibition that included Red Lake Royalty.

As a dancer and singer, Larry Yazzie has performed throughout much of the world. His current solo show, “Native Pride Dancer,” balances entertainment with education and features the high-energy Fancy Dance. Formed in 2003 and directed by Yazzie, the NATIVE PRIDE DANCERS strive to educate and entertain audiences of all ages on the beauty, skill, and majesty of American Indian music and dance.

Eddie Wadda Tribute

The Red Lake Youth Council decided that this years Conference would be dedicated to the "Memory of Eddie Wadda" a frequent presenter at the Youth Leadership Conference. Wadda, 42, of Fort Washakie, Wyoming died last May in a single car accident near Buffalo, Wyoming.

The Youth Council then paid tribute to Wadda. The accolade included a slide presentation of images showing Wadda doing what he loved most, working with youth. A memorial song preceded a Plaque Presentation to the members of Eddie's family by the youth council. The family, visibly moved, took turns at the mic thanking Red Lake "for being part of Eddie's life."

"Having Eddie's family and the Wind River Youth Council from Eddies home on the Wind River Reservation was very touching," said Conference organizer Candy Lynch.

Tom Barrett, Director of Red Lake Chemical Health Programs said "ten to twelve of Eddie's family members are here. The family heard about the dedication and wanted to come. The Wind River Tribal Council generously sponsored the trip to Red Lake for the family. Wadda spoke positively about his expreiences at Red Lake often on his home reservation and loved to come to the Youth Leadership Conference," he said.

All agreed that during his short life, Wadda (Eastern Shoshone), was loved by many for sharing his vision for Native Youth in the areas of history, leadership, culture, family, school, spirituality, and friendship.

During the afternoon, assorted workshops were conducted to be replicated the following day. Some sessions were repeated several times so that participants could be involved with most - if not all – sessions.

At 6:00 pm, conferees gathered at te Red Lake Humanities Center for a performance by Larry Yazzi and the Native Pride Dancers. Facilitating was Chance Rush aided by Chief Swagg, and "Emcee One" Christian Parrish.

Day Two Highlights

After a prayer and conference up-dates, participants attended sessions they may have missed Wednesday afternoon. Lunch was followed by fun.

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, had the audience rolling in the aisles as he had a dozen people meeting their favorite celebrities, and other outrageous and comical stunts.

Keynote Speaker: Chaske Spenser

Chaske Spenser may be one of the more recognizable American Indian actors in North America. But somewhat surprisingly he is also a motivational speaker. Spenser spends a fair amount of his time traveling around visiting reservations sharing his story about a troubled childhood and how he overcame adversity.

It was standing room only for those who wished to see and hear this "movie star." His message was strong, and it was refreshing to see that fame had not influenced Spenser to the point where he'd forgotten where he came from.

"We need unity to make things better," said the 38-year old Spenser. "Plant the seed now, what is your passion? You can do whatever you make up your mind to do, and you must do it."

Spenser, informal in his presentation, said that before he landed the role of Sam in the Twilight Saga movies, he was a garbage man for a catering company. He also said he suffered from drug and alcohol addiction.

After sobering up and his success in film, Spenser promised himself to give back to his community. "I try to do what I can, and if people can benefit by my experience I'm going to be there," said Spenser. "My life changed when I put down the alcohol and drugs. Being honest keeps me, and will keep you, on the Red Road."

However, one learned more of Spenser's views during a lengthy question and answer period following his talk. Most of the questions were serious about his film career or his challenges, but occasionally whimsy prevailed as he was asked at least twice to take off his shirt. (Spenser and his werewolf companions are young and buff and go through most - if not all - of the Twilight movies shirtless.)

Actor and activist Spencer was born of the Lakota Sioux tribe, and raised on Indian Reservations in Montana and Idaho.

Spenser spends his free time, traveling to various reservations inspiring young people to BE THE SHIFT they want to see in their communities as well as say no to alcohol and drugs, based on his own life experience. In May 2011, he joined forces with First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move! Indian Country" Campaign. The effort encourages a healthier lifestyle through fitness and nutrition within Native American families and communities.

Spenser 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. Finally he was able to get back to the Seven Clans Hotel for a much needed rest.

Closing remarks and a traveling song ended the day before a Banquet held in the early evening at Seven Clans Casino & Event Center. Emcee Robert Johnston soon had everyone laughing and enjoying the evening. Spenser again provided another key-note address.

Sessions & Guest Speakers

“The key to living a ‘well life’ is balance'," says Chance Rush (Three Affiliated Tribes-Hidatsa) along with Chief Swagg & Emcee One in a session billed as Elements of Life for Growth & Balance. “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.”

Humor permeated a session dubbed “Living a Positive Lifestyle” conducted by comedian and motivational speaker Mylo Smith (Crow Creek Dakota Sioux). Smith used humor to illustrate serious problems facing youth. He used his own life experiences with alcohol, drugs, violence, sexual abuse to demonstrate how things can be turned around to live a free life using positive life styles.

“Healthy Relationships start with healthy individuals," says Robert Johnston, (Muskogee Creek/Choctaw) in a workshop labeled “Hypnosis and the Power of the Mind”. Johnston, a founding member of the Native Wellness Institute, is a motivational speaker, trainer and presenter who entertains as well as enlightens. As a hypnotist, he has helped many people reprogram their minds to accept success into their lives.

“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," Johnston 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!”

"A Mother's Path to Healing" with Tanya G. Jourdain. Jourdain started off her presentation with saying that she was a mother, step-mother and grandmother. "I have lived a life of growing up on different reservations around the U.S. and have witnessed alcohol and drug abuse wherever I lived."

Jourdain's motivation comes from the terrible event of losing a daughter to alcohol poisoning. "I had to lay my daughter to rest for her life was taken too soon due to alcohol. I will speak to keep her memory alive and hopefully help others to avoid feeling that pain. I do this to protect all children and bring awareness to adults, especially those who might provide alcohol to minors."

Knowing the Signs of Suicide, Love Shouldn't Hurt, and When its Not Partying Anymore, were sessions conducted by Tamarah Gehlen. Gehlen is a licensed marital and family therapist, a licensed drug and alcohol counselor, and a certified Family Life Educator. She serves as the Program Director of WINGS treatment center in Litchfield, Minnesota with a private practice in Hutchinson. Gehlen brought honesty, compassion and humor to her presentations and created a space for participants to learn, heal, and reflect.

A new and important workshop was added this year entitled "The Seven Teachings, Understanding Midewiwin Values," and presented by Richard Morrison. Morrison directs the Upper Mississippi Mental Health Center's re-entry program for prisoners. He provides cultural specific and outreach to inmates released from St. Cloud and Moose Lake.

Raised on a reserve near Ft. Francis, he grew up with cultural teachings and is a fluent Ojibwemowin speaker. He graduated from Confederation College with a degree and general arts and sciences. He took social work courses at the University of Manitoba and worked for the New Directions in Winnipeg, a large social service organization addressing the needs of children, adults, families, and disabled.

Morrison indicated that among the Anishinaabe people, the Teachings of the Seven Grandfathers, also known simply as either the Seven Teachings or Seven Grandfathers, is a set of teachings on human conduct towards others.

Sessions By Red Lake Members/Professionals

A power packed approach to teen pregnancy, alcohol and drug abuse, self-worth, and decision making skills was provided by Red Lake's own Billie Schoenborn and Sarah Lussier of Equay Wiigamig in a workshop billed as “Teen Pregnancy”.

Schoenborn and Lussier used a "Jeopardy" format to address real life stress and chaos. Subjects included went beyond teen and unplanned pregnancy prevention, including domestic and teen violence, healthy relationships, risky behavior, and decision making. They spoke of HOPE which they said will “ignite much needed compassion among youth at the same time fueling responsibility and respect."

"Red Lake Scholarship Program" with Robert D. Beaulieu and Mavis LaDuke. Beaulieu and LaDuke set up a workshop to learn the basics of college scholarships like how to locate and where to apply for grants and scholarships, and the requirements to get into college. Although the scholarships are for Red Lake members only, other information regarding scholarship was available for all students.

A workshop entitled "Cycle of Violence, Sexual and Domestic Abuse," was conducted by Shari Smith, Rose Barrett, and Vickie Fineday of Equay Wiigamig in another session the same group did a workshop entitled "Healing Journey."

And finally a session called "Youth Entrepreneur" was conducted by Sharon James.

Deeper to the point of spilling off a chair

The popular Hand-drum making workshop with Darren Defoe and Larry VanWert along with Rez Jeopardy, with Salena Branchaud and Charlene Defoe were dropped this year due to illness and the time involved in drum making.

The impetus for the Youth Leadership Conference occurred after the formation of the Red Lake Nation Youth Council more than eight 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.

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.


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