UAII Youth Visit GRIC Prior to UNITY Mid-Year

March 3, 2023


Emma Hughes, 

Community Newsperson




A group of nine youths from United American Indian Involvement’s (UAII) American Indian Clubhouse in Los Angeles visited the Gila River Indian Community for the first time when the Akimel O’odham/Pee-Posh Youth Council (AOPPYC) hosted them on Feb. 23.


The group came to the Valley for the 2023 United National Indian Tribal Youth (UNITY) Midyear Conference Feb. 23-26 in Tempe, an annual three-day youth-led event designed to empower Native youth and adults. 


UAII was established in 1974 and is the largest provider of human and health services for American Indian/Alaskan Natives in the urban Los Angeles area. It provides comprehensive, integrated services that focus on all age groups and incorporates culture and traditions. 


The youths were joined by five UAII staff members, including Omerlene Thompson, social services manager for UAII. Thompson is a GRIC member from District 6 who lives in Los Angeles, where she has worked for the past 40 years.


“I thought this would be a perfect time for them to mingle with the Gila River Youth Council here and see how all of these youth out here do things for their community and maybe interact with them, sharing what they do,” said Thompson. 


She and the late Cheryl Jackson, a GRIC member from District 3, have helped fellow Community members in California stay connected to home. The two women have coordinated visits and gathered resources from GRIC departments and leadership.


At this gathering, the youths connected over a traditional meal of red chili stew, squash, beans and popovers provided by the Sunna family at the Anthony B. Shelde Community Building.


Gov. Stephen Roe Lewis, Gila River Royalty and AOPPYC advisors also welcomed the visiting group.


 “I’m so excited and glad that I was able to meet the youth from California from LA’s UAII,” said Arianna Blackwater, president of AOPPYC. “They’re just so wonderful and so energetic.”


Introductions and gifts were shared among the youth, and AOPPYC presented the UAII group with shell necklaces, sharing their significance to the Community. For many of the youth, it was their first time traveling out of state and attending the UNITY Midyear Conference.


“This is my first time going to UNITY and the dinner was great,” said Kayla River (Navajo). “It felt really welcome there and it was just a great experience and the food was really good.”


She said it was her first time trying any traditional food from another Native community. The youth thanked GRIC for the sincere welcome and hospitality.


“I really enjoyed what we had here,” said Pajak Carmelo (Tongva/Gabrielino Kumeyaay). “The food was delicious and the hospitality meant so much. It was so welcoming. It felt like home a lot, in my tribe. Hospitality is a precious thing and something that we all love because it’s just comforting. It’s like family.”