36th Annual AOPPYC Youth Conference returns in person
Gila River Indian News
On Saturday, July 15, the Akimel O’odham/ Pee-Posh Youth Council (AOPPYC) held its 36th annual Youth Conference at the Casa Blanca Community School in District 5.
This year’s day-long conference began at 9 a.m. It continued into the night, concluding at 10 p.m. This year’s conference was the first in-person event in three years. It offered spaces for youth to socialize with one another and learn about themselves and their culture.
This year’s theme was “Continuing to Motivate and Encourage Through Culture.”
“Part of this youth conference is to learn you are stronger than you know, and you never know how strong you are, until you push through,” said Gov. Stephen Roe Lewis in his welcoming address to the youth.
The morning began with a blessing from Wahlean Riggs in honor of her late mother and former councilwoman Brenda Robertson, followed by opening remarks from AOPPYC president Ariana Blackwater, Evelyn Enos, 2023-24 UNITY Earth Ambassador, and Sineca Jackson, 2023-24 UNITY Pacific Region Representative.
Then rounding out the morning speakers was a memorable keynote address from former GRIC Governor and AOPPYC founder Gregory Mendoza.
“Through the pandemic, we as youth have been isolated from our culture, so this year, we choose the theme to continue to motivate and encourage our culture,” said Conference Co-Chair Tizoc Ayala. Ayala and Conference Co-chair Eliana Rhodes guided students into their Caucus elections, where the youth voted upon who would best represent their district in the AOPPYC.
“My grandma always told me to get in touch with my Native culture, and ever since COVID happened, I’ve been wanting to reach out and learn more about it,” said Morgan Javier from District 4. Javier encouraged other youth in the Community to attend future youth conferences and AOPPYC events, since he gained valuable knowledge he missed out on learning during the pandemic.
Youth then broke out into workshops they found most interesting. Some workshops featured skill-based training, informational sessions, and cultural history teachings. Many Community programs and departments hosted various sessions for the youth, which included topics like First Aid for the Community, the history of GRIC Water Rights hosted by Gov. Lewis, and Stress Management with Tribal Health, to name a few.
“It’s been really fun. I liked how we were able to collaborate on what we wanted to do, we had a game plan and we stuck to what we could. I’m just really glad how it’s been turning out,” said AOPPYC associate member Evelyn Enos, District 4. She explained that the conference felt great to have again since the pandemic prevented the youth from socializing, and it was great to reunite again.
The AOPPYC conference concluded in the evening with a dinner and a presentation of awards followed by closing remarks from Lt. Gov. Monica Antone before the dance floor opened to the youth to dance and enjoy the sounds of D. Faktion Nyne to complete the event.