33rd AOPPYC Youth Conference Promotes Self Wellness and Growth for Youth

Kyle Knox

Gila River Indian News


In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Akimel O’odham/Pee-Posh Youth Council built upon the last year of successful virtual programming to provide its 33rd Annual AOPPYC Youth Conference on June 26 and 27. The two-day event provided an array of presentations and workshops for GRIC and Native youth locally and across the country focused around the theme of “Self Wellness and Growth.” 


Gov. Stephen Roe Lewis provided opening remarks on the first day. “All of you attending this conference are already showing such great leadership for our Community,” he said. “I want nothing more than to watch you grow as you continue on your lives and continue to contribute to our Community.” 


Gov. Lewis commended the AOPPYC for their contributions towards the Community’s overall wellness by hosting several virtual activities throughout the pandemic. Gov. Lewis also thanked everyone for their continued efforts to ensure everyone remains safe. He strongly urged youth participants to get their COVID-19 vaccinations. 


In total, 68 youth participated this year. Many more participated at home, made possible through the live broadcast by Gila River Broadcasting Corp., and its Facebook and YouTube platforms. Participants included Native youth from Washington, Kansas, Texas, and California.  


“The adaptability of the Youth Council members this year was remarkable,” said Michael Preston, AOPPYC Youth Coordinator. “Although most of them experienced challenges over the last year due to COVID-19, they still put in the effort to plan and host a virtual conference for their peers. That is the essence of youth leadership.” 


Jada Young, a member of AOPPYC, was thrilled with the offerings this year. “The youth were able to sign up for a huge variety of workshops relating to our culture, self-wellness, physical fitness, and a lot more,” said Young, who cited new friendships and fun icebreaker exercises as a few highlights. “Some even came with kits to build headphones, bead earrings, basket weaving, and different art classes.” 


Eliana Antone, a young District 6 resident, echoed the positive aspects of the conference. “I feel I gained a little more confidence in interacting and speaking with others,” said Antone. “It was amazing to see all the participants and the presenters. We all had lots of fun and I personally really enjoyed everyone’s company, even though it was just over a screen. It meant a lot,” 


The conference also showcased inspirational speakers who shared motivational stories sprinkled with humor to keep everyone engaged over the two days. Keynote speakers this year included actor and comedian Tatanka Means, former Miss Indian World Cheyenne Kippenberger, and the Community’s own “Gilarious” Wolf Brown, District 5. 


GRIC Lt. Gov. Monica Antone addressed the youth on the second day of the event. “Be positive, keep your humor, teach yourself about your family history, identity, and where you all come from,” said the Lieutenant. “And remember to keep a good heart, be humble and grace yourselves with the teachings of our Akimel O’otham and Pee Posh ancestors.” 


As in past years, elections for new AOPPYC representatives took place.  Four youths were voted in for new terms on the council. The new members include Crystal Lomayestewa, District 3; Evelyn Enos, District 4; Eliana Antone, District 6; and Lehua Dosela, District 6. 


Providing fun activities was a goal of the conference, said AOPPYC President Susanna Osife,  but providing the opportunity to share more about the importance of mental health was the most meaningful element of the event. 


“This year, we have been on a roller coaster of challenges and blessings, but through it all, we continue to carry the strength that our ancestors envisioned for us,” said Osife. “I strongly encourage you all to learn about mental health and how we can bring wellness to our hearts, minds, and bodies. By those actions, you are making great change for our Community now and for our future.”