Empowering Indigenous Voices: Center for Native American Youth at the 3rd Annual Native Youth Summit

From August 2-4, 2023 at Navajo Preparatory School in Farmington, New Mexico, an inspiring gathering of exceptional young leaders unfolded at the 3rd Annual Native Youth Summit, a transformative occasion meticulously orchestrated by Protect the Sacred and Harness. The summit’s mission was clear: to educate, empower, and fortify the voices of Indigenous youth.

Among the youth attendees was Anthony Tamez, a member of the Center for Native American Youth (CNAY) team, who shared invaluable insights into the intricate interplay between democracy and Indigenous values, along with Samuel Hiratsuka, a 2023 CNAY Champion for Change. Whose presence underscored the diverse backgrounds and narratives that collectively form the rich tapestry of Indigenous communities.

Protect the Sacred, an organization dedicated to strengthening Indigenous sovereignty and preserving elders, languages, and cultural practices, played a crucial role in bringing together this year’s summit. With the transition from virtual to in-person, the event provided a unique platform for Native youth leaders to connect, learn, and strategize for the future. The gathering’s primary objective was to build power and strategy for Native youth and Native American voting rights in Arizona, with the ultimate goal of nurturing lifelong leaders.

The summit commenced with a warm welcome from key figures from the local Indigenous community. Allie Redhorse Young, Director and Founder of Protect the Sacred, and Darah Tabrum, Dean of Student & Community Engagement at Navajo Prep, extended their greetings. A prayer by Peterson Carlston Sr., Allie’s Grandfather, added a grounding to the event to kick it off in that good way.

The learning journey continued with training sessions that catered to the needs of Native youth participants. Anthony Tamez of the Center for Native American Youth conducted a training session on “Democracy is Indigenous,” shedding light on the role of Native people in shaping democracy. The Native Organizers Alliance led a grassroots organizing training, providing participants with tools to effect positive change in their communities. Additionally, a narrative strategy workshop by ICT’s Jourdan Bennett-Begaye highlighted the power of storytelling in driving social change.

Panel discussions were a pivotal part of the summit, bringing together influential voices to address pressing issues. From the power of the Native vote to protecting Indigenous children through ICWA (Indian Child Welfare Act) and Native American boarding schools, the discussions delved into critical topics affecting Indigenous communities. The intersections of land rights, climate action, and Indigenous storytelling also took center stage, reflecting the holistic approach to Indigenous empowerment.

The first day concluded with a vibrant community dinner accompanied by mesmerizing musical performances by Dach Martin, Billy Crawley II, Aspyn Kaskalla, and Scotti Clifford, underscoring the importance of cultural expression and connection.

Day two of the summit began with a forward-looking panel discussion titled “Ride to the Polls: Lookback & Look Ahead to 2024.” This engaging session featured notable figures like Mo Brings Plenty, Douglas Miles Sr. and Jr., and Frank Young II, all sharing their experiences and insights on the power of collective action in shaping political landscapes. Allie Redhorse Young presented the plans for the 2024 Ride to the Polls campaign, emphasizing the significance of political engagement for Indigenous youth.

The 3rd Annual Native Youth Summit proved to be a dynamic platform for fostering unity, learning, and empowerment among Indigenous youth. The Center for Native American Youth staff, represented by Anthony Tamez, and the 2023 Champion for Change, Samuel Hiratsuka, left a lasting impact on the event, inspiring attendees to continue their journey of advocating for Indigenous sovereignty, cultural preservation, and meaningful change. As their voices continue to resonate, the legacy of this summit will undoubtedly shape the path toward a brighter future for Indigenous communities across the nation.