Paiute youth find leadership, voice in D.C. trip

By Dawn M. Aerts

Iron County Today

For the eight Paiute youth who visited Washington, D.C., this spring, it meant stepping out of Indian Country and into the fast-paced world of political debate, partisan activism and to the historical sites that loom large and impressive over the National Mall.

But it was more than a tourist destination for these young people, said Roger Clark, Prevention Coordinator, Paiute Tribe of Utah.  It was also about convening with prominent Native American leadership, attending insightful presentations and finding a voice among other students who share their culture, values and experience.

The youth, ages 14 to 17, represented each of the five Paiute Bands of Utah — Cedar, Indian Peaks, Kanosh, Koosharem and Shivwits, and were selected to participate based on academics, attendance, and involvement in Native Youth activities.  “A number of these young people live on reservation lands,” said Clark of the week-long visit, “That is sometimes their everyday experience.”

In the selection process, the students were asked to write an essay on the specific challenges they face in the modern-world.  “This is the second year for a small group trip to Washington’s Capitol,” said Clark of the project made possible through a scholarship from the Close-Up Foundation, the Suicide Prevention Initiative (MSPI) grant and with donations by the Paiute bands.

According to Clark, students toured a variety of sites from the Native American Museum and Library of Congress to War Memorials and The Lincoln Center.  “During the day, time was set aside to meet with the Leader of the ‘First Nation’ of Canada, and others in positions of leadership,” said Clark, “and for students to share their own history in group panels and presentations.”

In the evening, they met with a variety of youth leaders, mentors and with Native American Tribal members from across the U.S.  “Part of the week was dedicated to sharing and addressing a variety of topics from health issues on diabetes and food nutrition to looking at personal addictions and relationships.”

For students, it was also about understanding their role in self-governance and youth empowerment.  “Our students need to know how to deal with the modern world they live in,” said Clark. “This was a chance for them to learn more about the tools of prevention, to build on their own self-confidence and to access the real possibilities in leadership.”

Clark was one of three adult mentors who guided students through a maze of tourist venues and to iconic points of U.S. governance and history.  “I would say that students took a special interest in the visit to The Library of Congress, to The Native American Museum and in seeing the War Memorial sites up close,” said Clark of the trip. “Students had opportunity to voice their point of view and to see that there are ways to help people — mentally, physically and through politics. To understand that they have a voice into their future.”

Caption: (left to right) Students from the five Native American Paiute Bands of Utah visited Washington D.C. sites to present and share their issues, and voice on contemporary topics as well as to meet other leaders and teens who represent Native American people from across the U.S. (Photo left to right) First row Cason Deschine, 2nd row  Braidin Jake, McKaylon Jackson, 3rd row   Sincere Gus Dixon, Little Sun Lavallee, Braden Nomee, Elissa Aguayo, and Vanessa Lee. Courtesy photo


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