a peer leader speaks with a group of youth during the unity conference in Anchorage 2016

October 13, 2016

United National Indian Tribal Youth (UNITY) came to Alaska for the first time earlier this month to host their Today’s Native Leaders (TNL) training, one of eight trainings hosted around the country. The event was staffed by a small group of dedicated professionals and a larger group of peer leaders, all hailing from tribes across the United States. Youth groups from Mountain Village, Gakona, Sterling, Mentasta Lake, Dillingham, New Stuyahok, and Togiak flew to Anchorage to take part. Two more groups traveled all the way from Arizona and California. The young men and women arrived in Anchorage on a Friday as strangers and left Sunday as a powerful network of youth leaders spanning Alaska and beyond.

two young women speaking with one another
Youth engage in a networking exercise

TNL revealed to these young Alaskans that they have a place in a growing movement of Native leaders nationwide. The highly-motivated team from UNITY, through non-stop training and engagement, guided each group through a process that gathered their ideas for change in their community and formed them into actionable project plans. Beyond explaining these ideas, each group worked to lay out the challenges their project would face and how they would meet those obstacles and overcome them. Through the TNL curriculum, they crafted a beginning-to-end project plan that focuses their team’s efforts to create action where there was once only wishful thinking.

youth sit at a table working on a project
Hard at work planning a service project

At the end of the weekend, youth took to the stage to present their group’s project and plan to make it happen back home.

The first group proposed hosting a carnival for their village, complete with music, games, and prizes, as a way to bring everybody together for a day of excitement without drugs or alcohol. Another presentation advocated for actively including elders in summer culture camps, expressing a strong desire to connect generations through culture and practice respect for elders. A third group aspired to conduct a healing circle for their village, where those carrying hurt could open up and seek support to begin recovery.

During one presentation, a group faltered in front of their peers. The UNITY staff created a teaching moment. Supportive adults explained that the presentation would be unable to persuade funders and gather community support. A staff member then instructed the teens to “Go practice and get it right.” It was as a rough moment for the group and for the audience, but the message was clear: UNITY is here to build leaders. A short while later, the group returned and gave a transformed presentation. Where they had been timid and unprepared, they stood tall and delivered. Participants met this renewed effort with shouts and applause. The staff recognized the youth group’s potential and called on them to meet it. These Native Leaders rose to the challenge and could return home with heads held high, and a plan to make a difference.

12 youth pose for group picture
Several trainees pose with their peer leaders

To learn more about UNITY and Today’s Native Leaders, visit their website: http://unityinc.org

Photo credit: UNITY, Inc.