AOPPYC Opens the 2022 UNITY Midyear Leadership Conference
Gila River Indian News
The Akimel O’odham/Pee-Posh Youth Council (AOPPYC) opened the United National Indian Tribal Youth, Inc. (UNITY) annual Midyear Leadership Conference Feb. 25-27 in Phoenix—the first since 2019 due to the pandemic—by sharing songs and a land acknowledgment. The youth-led conference drew 400 youth and advisors from all over the country for three days of training, cultural sharing, musical performances by Native American artists and keynote addresses from prominent Native Americans.
“It’s so important for us at UNITY to do a land acknowledgment; I’m so grateful for the O’otham sister tribes for banding together and presenting their culture and prayers in a beautiful way,” said Mary Kim Titla, executive director of UNITY. “We thank the young people and advisors for bringing this together and kicking off the conference in a good way.”
The opening performance featured the AOPPYC, the Ak-Chin Youth Council and youth from the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, with songs led by the Chi’Chino O’odham Dance Group. Miss Indian Arizona 2021-22 and Gila River Indian Community member Alyse Marrietta provided the land acknowledgment, which honors Phoenix as the ancestral homelands of the Akimel O’otham and Pee Posh.
The theme for this year’s conference was “Restoring the Spirit of Native Youth.” Since the pandemic, most of the UNITY programming has been virtual, so coming together was crucial to the theme. The in-person interactions provided a more profound understanding during training, which was often missed over the last two years.
“It’s so nice that we can have UNITY Midyear in person while following COVID-19 safety protocols, and we want to make sure that everyone learns leadership skills but also [have] fun while doing it,” said Titla. “We’re offering a curriculum that promotes action planning so that when everyone leaves, they’ll all be equipped with an action plan in hand, with 10 steps to conduct any type of community service project at home.”
The conference provided a synergy not often felt when working virtually, and the difference was evident.
“It was energizing to attend the event. Seeing young people teach, learn and connect in person was refreshing and energizing,” said Michael Preston, AOPPYC youth coordinator. “Everyone looked very happy, and you could hear the excitement in their voices all weekend.”
After identifying critical issues, many shared new insights and solutions to some of the issues youth face.
AOPPYC member Waylon Webb Jr. said, “Talking to other youth, I noticed the struggles of the youth in our communities and how some deal with depression by turning to drugs and alcohol.” He added that he gained great ideas to bring back to the community.
Keynote speakers also were motivational. ”I learned that one voice can be as powerful as a thousand from Quannah Chasinghorse,” said AOPPYC member Crystal Lomayestewa.
Chasinghorse talked about her negative experiences as a youth and how to use that negativity as motivation for change. This inspired Lomayestewa and helped change her perspectives on her life, she said, adding, “This conference is life-changing. I can confidently say that I have gained so much knowledge, friendships and insights on different issues.”
UNITY’s National Conference will be held July 8-12 in Minneapolis, Minn.