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I.G.N.Y.T.E. Youth Conference

I.G.N.Y.T.E. Youth Conference keynote speaker Amy Juan (center) led a group exercise with everyone gathered in a circle. She asked for participants to clear out the tables and chairs and to form a circle. The circle symbolizes a healthy community when full, but when the circle isn't full and people are removed it symbolizes a broken and unhealthy community. The conference was held on August 1 at Scottsdale Community College's Indigenous Cultural Center.

Be brave.

That was one of the many challenges shared with the dozens of youth in attendance at the I.G.N.Y.T.E. Youth Conference, held on August 1 at Scottsdale Community College’s Indigenous Cultural Center on the western edge of the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community.

Funding for the all-day conference geared for youth ages 12 to 15 was made possible by a grant awarded from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), a wing of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. SRPMIC Youth Services organized the conference. Ms. Indian Scottsdale Community College Kaitlin Donahue and Miss Salt River Manderee Lynn Jose each welcomed the participants. Jr. Miss Salt River Teegan Smith provided an opening prayer. Bobby Wilson, a member of the 1491s comedy troupe, emceed the event.

Keynote speakers Andy Jay and Amy Juan took turns speaking, but their individual messages resonated in being brave and trying new things.

“Your bubble is your comfort zone; pop your bubble,” Jay said. “It’s okay to be scared to try something new. You did try something new today—you showed up [here].”

Jay, who works with the After-School Program at SRPMIC Recreational Services, shared his story of growing up and making sacrifices to better himself. His journey has taken him all across the country thanks to wrestling. He encouraged the youth to have a “shark” mentality, meaning never stop moving forward and keep active.

Hands up! Table teams raised their hands when they completed the scavenger hunt. The object of the hunt was to find items requested already in one's possession like a pack of bubble gum or phone charger. Winners received a prize.
“Pay attention to what’s going on around you,” he said. “Sacrifice your phone a little bit, put it down for an hour, 30 minutes, and enjoy what’s around you.”

Juan, a citizen of the Tohono O’odham Nation, asked the youth to answer “What does a healthy O’odham community look like?” She asked the students if they lived in one. The majority said no. Juan said she’s a “firm believer that we have the answers to our own issues; we know the struggles, what’s happening in our community.”

She led a group exercise with everyone gathered in a circle. A drum was placed in the center, surrounded by the youngest people attending the conference sitting on the floor, then older people and elders on chairs around them. On the outside were young women and women, and just outside them were young men and men. This circle symbolized a healthy community. It was a tool for a healing exercise Juan learned that was passed on from Alaska Native elders.

Juan then periodically selected random participants to step outside of the circle and move to the side as a symbol of a broken and unhealthy community, one that is related to historical trauma.

“We are all Indigenous; we are all O’odham,” she said. “We all have a purpose in this room.”

I.G.N.Y.T.E. Youth Conference participants gather for a group photo at the end of the one-day conference.
Photo courtesy of Tori Paukgana.
She finished her keynote with an O’odham song.

After lunch, the youth attended breakout sessions led by area Native artists, from DJ Element and Liv The Artist to Neoglyphix Art and OXDX screen printing.

Gift cards from area businesses and attractions were given out in raffle drawings, and informational booths were also on hand.

Tori Paukgana, Community Recreational Services acting assistant director, wanted to offer a special thank-you to those who contributed to the conference: Pimara Construction, Talking Stick Resort, Family Advocacy Center, SRPMIC Public Works, Topgolf, OdySea Aquarium, Butterfly Wonderland, KTR Indoor Action Sports Playground, Medieval Times, SRPMIC Health and Human Services, and Discover Salt River.