Youth summit teaches, 'Together we can heal'
By Shondiin Silversmith
WINDOW ROCK, July 4, 2013
Navajo youth got the chance to go to Alaska not only to take in the sights but also gain a better insight to the issues that affect Native American and Alaska Native communities.
Students - Alyssa Begaye, 13, from Birdsprings, N.M., Elizabeth Denetdeal, 13, from Fort Defiance, Jessica Denetdeal, 13, from St. Michaels, Shandera Othermedicine, 16, from Fort Defiance, and Audri Mitchell, 15, from Mesa, Ariz. - attended the 2013 National Intertribal Youth Summit, which is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Justice and the National Congress of American Indians.
The conference they attended was the 30th annual Rural Providers' Conference, hosted by the Tanana Chiefs Conference and the Rural Alaska Community Action Program, Inc. while the students were housed at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks, Alaska.
The conference is to embrace and unite traditional Alaska Native knowledge and modern treatment and prevention methods to find solutions for alcohol and drug abuse.
The conference allowed the students to take part in ceremonies, talking circles and other cultural events.
About 370 people attended the conference this year, including about 40 youth from across the state and from the Navajo Nation, according to Angela Gonzalez, communications coordinator of the Rural Alaska Community Action Program, Inc.
Mitchell attended the program through the Big Brothers and Sisters of Central Arizona with her big sister Bobbi Rose Nez. The pair has been matched for over five years and when given the opportunity to go to a conference they selected the one in Alaska from June 10-14.
Nez said people who were in recovery themselves gave presentations at the conference, and heard testimonies, which focused on substance abuse, domestic violence and sexual abuse.
The workshops Nez found most interesting were the ones that focused on traditional treatments and prevention strategies.
"Healing our past and future with ceremonies," she said adding that when one things of ceremony, traditional ceremonies come up. But "they talked about ceremony as a form of marking and celebrating things."
Mitchell said the workshops she attended while at the conference focused on suicide prevention among the youth adding that suicide is the number one cause of death in Alaska.
"You need to treat them better so they won't take the road that leads to suicide. They just need that one person to say they need you," Mitchell said.
Of the overall conference, Mitchell, said, "The thing that kept going through my mind was they kept saying 'together we can learn from each other and we can heal from each other.'"
Varian Begaye, a chaperon, said he wanted the students to attend this conference so they could meet other native tribes.
"It was a really great experience meeting the Athabascan tribes," he said adding that he wanted the students to get exposure to all the presentations the conference had to offer.