Sarah Schilling, of the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians, is one of five 2013 Champions for Change chosen by the Center for Native American Youth. The 18-year-old is a recent high school graduate from Charlevoix, Michigan who was inspired by her participation and the youth-based efforts at a National Congress of American Indians conference to create her tribes’ first youth council back in 2009.
To create the council, Schilling worked with the tribal council, her peers, and youth programs in the community to organize and create their own constitution, bylaws and a code of conduct. The youth council became affiliated with the United National Indian Tribal Youth (UNITY) organization.
Under Schilling’s leadership, the youth council has hosted youth retreats, talking circles and other events to address underage drinking prevention, anti-bullying and suicide prevention. As a junior advisor, she engages younger students and encourages them to make a positive transition into new leadership roles.
How old were you and how did you first get started and involved with your area of knowledge that Champions for Change has recognized you for?
I was 14 years old. I won an essay contest (through my tribes’ youth programs department) to go to the National Congress of American Indians Conference in Phoenix, Arizona. I attended NCAI's youth track and was inspired to start a youth council in my community.
What is the secret to your success?
The secret to success of the youth council has been dedication. We all dedicate a part of our lives and ourselves to the success of the group. With a group mentality, everyone works toward one goal that affects us all.
How have your efforts helped your Native community?
We all come to the youth council to make a positive change in our community. We've held youth retreats on underage drinking and drug use as well as anti-bullying and suicide prevention that we named Rejuvenative. A word we defined as ‘Rejuvenating our Native nations through strengthening today's youth.’
These retreats have bridged the gap between social groups and brought the youth together. I think the best way to better our community is to strengthen our youth, and give them the opportunities and recourses to grow into strong youth leaders.
How does being Native affect how you view the world and what you are doing?
Being Native, my cultural teachings are always with me. I learned about the 7 grandfathers teaching at a young age: Wisdom, Love, Respect, Bravery, Honesty, Humility, and Truth. Tradition tells us we should consider the affect of our decisions on the 7th generation. I try to think of that, and hope I in some way positively affect the future generations.
Who has been your biggest influence?
I can't pinpoint one person who has influenced me more than others. I'm the youngest of seven children and have always looked up to my older siblings, and my mother who raised me as a single mom. Some of my mentors have been my tribes youth workers. Joseph Lucier who taught me that anything is possible and showed me that people can change. Kristy Dayson has taught me to step out of my comfort zone and go after what I want. Jeanie Norris has taught me how to believe in myself and others. Barry Bott has taught me that you always have people to support you even when it doesn't feel like it.