Meet the speakers for this year’s Champions for Change panel discussion at The Aspen Institute in Washington, DC.

Opening Remarks:

Former U.S. Senator Byron Dorgan had a prolific career in public service, serving at both the state and federal levels. During his time in Congress, Senator Dorgan was a tireless advocate for Native American issues, championing efforts to reauthorize and modernize the Indian Health Care Improvement Act, authoring the Tribal Law and Order Act, reauthorizing the Special Diabetes Program for Indians, fighting for increased funding for Indian Country programs, and much more. After leaving the Senate and choosing not to seek reelection, Senator Dorgan founded the Center for Native American Youth at The Aspen Institute to sustain focus on issues affecting young Native Americans.


Elliott Gerson is an executive vice president at The Aspen Institute, responsible for its Policy Programs, its Public Programs and its relations with its international partners. The Institute’s more than 30 Policy Programs focus on both domestic and international issues. They provide neutral venues, do nonpartisan analysis, foster candid dialogue among leaders, advocate new policy and promote best practices. The Institute’s public programs – including the Aspen Ideas Festival and many smaller programs across the country and world – open the Institute’s doors to a broader audience and further both its educational goals and its hopes that thought will lead to action. The Institute has international partners in the Czech Republic, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Romania, Spain, and Ukraine. Gerson also administers the US Rhodes Scholarships. He was a Rhodes Scholar, a US Supreme Court clerk, practiced law in government and privately, held executive positions in state and federal government and on a presidential campaign, and was president of start-ups in health care and education, and of two leading national insurance and health-care companies. He has served on many non-profit boards, especially in the arts.



Nancy Deere-Turney is a 2017 Champion for Change who founded a cultural preservation initiative called the Youth Enrichment Camp. The camp is hosted at a traditional roundhouse on her family’s land, and provides a space for Native youth to discuss the importance of culture. Nancy believes that engaging with culture can help Native youth combat suicidality and other issues they face. A former Junior Miss and Miss Muscogee (Creek) Nation, Nancy is actively involved in her tribe’s government, and plans to run for elected office for her district’s National Council.



Vice Chairman Verlon M. Jose is from the Tohono O’odham Nation in southern Arizona. He has a long career in public service. He has served as a Legal Assistant for the Nation’s Office of Attorney General, as a Tribal Court Advocate, and as Chairman of the Chukut Kuk District Council and Chairman of the Tohono O’odham Legislative Council. He has also served as President of the Baboquivari Unified School District. Mr. Jose was elected Vice Chairman of the Tohono O’odham Nation in 2015 and is serving his first term.

Panelists: 2018 Champions for Change

Damien Carlos (Tohono O’odham Nation) is 19 years old and from Sells, Arizona. Damien harnesses the healing effects of ancestral lands to help Native youth battle feelings of isolation and depression. In connecting Native youth to Mother Earth and Tohono O’odham culture, Damien builds relationships with young people that help them reconnect, build confidence and recognize their self-worth. In addition to being a student at Tohono O’odham Community College, Damien is founder of the I’oligam Youth Alliance, an Earth Ambassador for United National Indian Tribal Youth, Inc. (UNITY), and serves on the Tribal Youth Health Advisory Board for the National Indian Health Board.


Isabel Coronado (Muscogee Creek Nation) is 21 and from Okmulgee, Oklahoma. After witnessing the effect of incarceration on Native communities in her home state, Isabel helped create the American Indian Criminal Justice Navigation Council. AICJNC is an initiative of the Southern Plains Tribal Health Board that trains successfully reintegrated ex-offenders to help others navigate the criminal justice system. The program includes a special support group, where Isabel helps give a voice to children with incarcerated parents.



Shawna Garza (Kickapoo Tribe of Oklahoma) is 18 years old and from Shawnee, Oklahoma. Shawna grew up in foster care and is working to counter stereotypes of Native American foster youth. By striving to be a mentor and leader in her community, Shawna hopes to inspire other youth to break intergenerational cycles of abuse and addiction. Shawna is a role model to her younger siblings and peers alike, encouraging Native youth to graduate and reach for their dreams.



EllaMae Looney (Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation) is 17 years old and from Pendleton, OR. EllaMae advocates for language revitalization among Native youth in Oregon. She’s learning all three Native languages spoken in her tribal community – Walla Walla, Nez Perce and Umatilla – and is surveying Native youth to determine how to best deliver language lessons. EllaMae believes that language is a critical aspect of Native American identity.



Anthony Tamez (Wuskwi Sipihk First Nations Cree and Sicangu Lakota) is 18 years old and from Chicago, Illinois. Anthony works hard to challenge misconceptions about urban Native youth. As co-president of Chi-Nations Youth Council in Chicago, Anthony leads Native youth in medicine walks to harvest ancestral plants, participates in demonstrations like the Standing Rock movement, helps young people with regalia making and more. Anthony is also passionate about advocating for the elimination of race-based mascots that promote stereotypes, and works against the ongoing erasure of indigenous people in what is now known as “Chicago”.