Youth Council presents annual conference on virtual platform

Kyle Knox
Gila River Indain News



The Akimel O’odham/Pee-Posh Youth Council (AOPPYC) held a virtual conference on July 18 and 19 on Zoom, the video communications platform, with 80 youth participating in lieu of the traditional in-person conference due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The 32nd Annual Youth Conference went virtual for the first with over 400 viewers streaming online, and 300 viewers attending the conference at home through a partnership with the Gila River Broadcasting Corporation. 

“You don’t need a big conference with a dance and arcade games with pizza to have fun and have a good time, and that there are still ways to connect with others,” said Angel Marquez, At-Large Member.


The youth took on the challenge of hosting their marquee event while doing their part to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

“We [AOPPYC] have proven to society that even the biggest challenges, like COVID-19, won’t prevent us from connecting with others,” said Marquez.

The AOPPYC honored the historical perseverance and ingenuity of the Akimel O’otham and Pee Posh under the theme, “Resiliency of the Water People.” 

AOPPYC Youth Coordinator Michael Preston said, “We wanted to use stories of overcoming significant obstacles in the past to inspire the youth, and to remind them that they come from strong people and no matter the threat, we will overcome them.” Gov. Stephen Roe Lewis cited the theme’s importance for the youth in his address.  


“Through drought, land loss, illness, and encroachment, our history is full of examples of the resilience of how our Community comes together to face challenges. And how we take the long-term approach to crisis knowing we have the perseverance to overcome it if we all stand together,” said Gov. Lewis. The virtual version of the youth conference still featured speakers, presentations, youth council elections and activities with prerecorded media used to enhance the two-day agenda.


Thosh Collins from the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community and the co-founder of Wellness for Culture and Sr. Trainer for Native Wellness Institute was the keynote speaker. His presentation focused on introducing and teaching the “Seven Circles of Wellness,” which include food, sleep, movement, peacefulness, sacred space, connection to the Earth, and kinship.  


“Even though the conference was virtual, it still had the same good energy, and I could tell that the participants enjoyed it,” said Crystal Lomayestewa, District 3 Representative, District 2 Representative Susanna Osife said, “I enjoyed the speakers, including Lt. Gov. Robert Stone, who shared a message of encouragement towards youth and how important learning from others is and carrying it with us.” Osife also mentioned that there was still a sense of unity for the online users during the conference. 


“I learned that even though we couldn’t physically be in one place. Together we are still a community that will never be divided,” said Osife.

At-Large member, Jr. Miss Gila River Sineca Jackson gained useful information from an educational workshop she attended.

“Personally, and professionally, I will be taking all that knowledge from the presenters and applying it to my education within the next year when I start looking at applying for college,” said Jackson.


Long distance participation is one advantage of a virtual conference. O’otham youth from outside the state streamed and participated this year as well as youth from SRPMIC, Ak-Chin Indian Community and the Tohono O’odham Nation.

Miss Hopi Aeon Albert attended and was also impressed by the AOPPYC and encouraged their work with the youth.

“Keep up all of the amazing work you’re doing and continue to be proud of who you are and where you come from,” said Albert.