“Telling the Stories of the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community”

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“Telling the Stories of the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community”

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February 17, 2024

YRPC Members Attend Midyear UNITY Conference

By Juan Ysaguirre

By Nalani Lopez

Each February, UNITY, United National Indian Tribal Youth, hosts a midyear conference in preparation for the organization’s annual conference in July. The three-day conference held February 2-4 in downtown Phoenix brought together more than 700 tribal youth from communities across the United States. Members of the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community’s Young River People’s Council attended the conference for a weekend of leadership, community-service planning, and making connections with other tribal youth.

“Attending UNITY is a great opportunity for our youth to meet other tribal youth from all across the country,” said Youth Development Specialist Sommer Lopez. “For a majority of our members, it is their first time being in a setting with hundreds of other tribal youth. They are able to share their common experiences and the hardships they go through. In addition, they can be inspired by adult speakers and mentors who have done amazing things in their lives.”

The keynote speaker on Friday was Supaman, a talented Apsáalooke rapper and fancy war dancer from Crow Agency, Montana. His warm encouragement and comedy attracted a crowd of tribal youth around him as he told his life story of being raised as a child of alcoholic parents and going through the foster care system.

YRPC Members Attend Midyear UNITY Conference
All four sibling O’odham tribes shared dances and songs with the visiting tribes on Saturday evening.

“I learned that music can relieve different types of stress, and how he didn’t let addiction overcome his life,” said Youth Council member Myson Galindo.

In between general sessions with speakers, the young attendees divided into breakout sessions on mental health, culture, wellness and the environment to brainstorm community-based solutions.

“We talked about taking care of the environment in our breakout group,” said YRPC member Zariah Miles. “We recognized that pollution is a major problem in our communities. We came up with the solution to set up policies to prevent dumping.”

Friday evening, the conference presented a tribal royalty pageant. Brave YRPC members Tizoc Lopez and Cruz Lasiloo stepped on stage to charm the judges with their comedy and dance performances. After dancing on stage, Lasiloo became a fan favorite. He ended the night as the First Attendant to Mr. UNITY.

“I wasn’t planning on running, but I saw Tizoc on stage, so I decided to join him. It was really fun, and the questions they asked us were good. I ended up getting to the final round,” said Lasiloo.

On Saturday, the YRPC members continued to participate in workshops. They listened to keynote speaker Kiowa Gordon, a Hualapai actor who played Embry Call in the Twilight movie series.

To close the evening, the O’odham Cu:dk gathered members of the four sibling tribes to share various basket dances and social songs with the other tribal youth. 

“For the most part, Midyear UNITY is held in the aboriginal lands of the O’odham,” said Greg Mendoza, UNITY programs director and former governor of the Gila River Indian Community. “It’s important to share the songs and dances and honor our ancestors who have occupied this area for many years. It’s also an opportunity to welcome visitors who are unfamiliar with our culture. It brings us together and shares the blessing of our culture.” 

On the last day of the conference, UNITY bid farewell to the tribal youth and prepared them to return back to their communities to continue their tribal advocacy. 

“[It] has been nice getting to connect with new and different faces. Here I feel safe and welcomed by everybody. I like how we are able to connect from the problems we have in our Community and find a solution for not just one of us, but all of us,” said YRPC member Amelia Lasiloo.