Students representing Native American tribes from across the state converged on Flagstaff this week for a conference about health, the environment and leadership.
At the ninth annual Arizona American Indian Youth Conference on Health and the Environment, middle and high school students from around the state and various tribes worked on leadership activities and listened to speakers and presentations about taking care of themselves and the world around them.
Gwenda Gorman, the Health and Human Services Director for the Arizona Inter Tribal Council, said topics discussed at the annual summer conference are often ones that parents find difficult to approach with their children, including pregnancy prevention, suicide prevention and healthy relationships.
The conference was sponsored by the Arizona Inter Tribal Council, a consortium that represents 21 Native American Tribes in Arizona. Gorman said about 80 students attended the conference.
“For the past nine years we have held this youth health promotion conference where we highlight topics like teen pregnancy prevention, healthy relationships and mental, physical and emotional health,” Gorman said. “I hope they take away something from each of the presentations they attend, like ways to better take care of themselves physically, mentally and emotionally.”
Students attending the conference attended workshop sessions focused on topics like suicide prevention, as well as touring the campus of Northern Arizona University, including information about Native American Student Services.
Gorman said in the past nine years she and other conference leaders have been able to strengthen the conference and services offered by partnering with universities and community colleges, as well as other organizations.
Gorman said conference sponsors have been able to partner with smaller organizations like the Morning Star Leadership foundation, which is a Phoenix-based foundation dedicated to promoting leadership initiatives for Native American students.
Students from the Morning Star Leaders Youth Council attended the conference as students, but were also tasked with creating team bonding activities throughout the conference and leading the other attendees in activities.
Debbie Manuel, the executive director of Morning Star, said her goal through the organization and in the conference was to increase visibility of Native American youth and adults in the decision-making process for policies that affect their communities.
“We know how important it is for youth to have a sense of identity,” Manuel said. “We can also raise awareness for non-Indians about the culture and history of tribes in Arizona and in our region.”
Manuel had five student representatives from Morning Star attending the conference, ranging in age from middle school to high school seniors.
Gabriel Fuentes, a member of Morning Star from the Hopi tribe, said he was particularly interested in the suicide prevention presentation and information. He said he has attended suicide prevention workshops in the past, and wants to start a campaign in his community.
“Everyone came with different interests,” Fuentes said. “We listen and get to know them and foster leadership opportunities.”
Fuentes said to him, leadership meant helping others and the community, as well as developing identity.
Kanyon Yazzie, another member of Morning Star, said she learned that leadership means setting a good example.
“You have to make your decision carefully because other people are going to follow it,” she said. “You have to be careful of your decisions.”
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