This summer the White Mountain Apache Tribe Office of Vice Chairman Kasey Velasquez partnered with the White Mountain Apache Education Department and other tribal programs to provide the Future Generations Youth Conference at Theodore Roosevelt School in Arizona.
The four-day conference brought Apache youth, aged 8 to 20, together to address a variety of social issues that plague the community and to participate in activities focused on character, leadership and community building.
“When I was a young man, I had a mentor in our late and former Chairman Reno Johnson. Mr. Johnson always encouraged me to get my education, to work hard to make good choices in life and to give back to this community. Growing up, I never realized that his mentorship was molding me for who I am today as a husband, father and now as the Vice Chairman of the White Mountain Apache Tribe. The Youth Conference came to me through inspiration, inspiration to motivate our youth, to provide objectives to our youth and to encourage our youth to not lose focus of the future,” Velasquez said.
The Youth Conference began on July 22, hosting youth ages 8 to13 and started with opening prayer led by Miss White Mountain Apache Shasta Dazen, followed by opening remarks by Tribal Chairman Ronnie Lupe and Velasquez. Throughout the day, youth attended workshops on health, fitness, healthy relationships, suicide prevention, social media, education and others addressing social challenges on the reservation. The day also included presentations by Steve Forte of Steered Straight working with youth on the power of making decisions that are positive and have negative impacts on life, Andrew Orozco of the Breaking Dawn Series was a motivational speaker, the White Mountain Apache Police and K-9 Unit and also traditional entertainment by local dance groups and tribal royalty.
“We are very proud of the first annual Future Generations Youth Conference. The Education Department was honored to work with so many tribal programs to make sure the four-day conference was filled with educational workshops, interactive presentations and incentives for our Apache youth. Throughout the Conference we hosted hundreds of Apache youth and worked with dozens of volunteers from the community and other tribal departments,” Harrisen DeClay, White Mountain Apache Education Director said. “The goal was to create a strong impact on our youth, and as we reflect on the experience, we are confident that those who attended left impacted by the workshops, activities and discussions.”
On July 23, the conference hosted youth ages 14 to 20, initiating the second day with introductions, opening remarks from tribal leaders, orientation for youth and then launching a variety of workshops geared toward the teenage demographic on the reservation. Throughout the day, youth participated in workshops addressing healthy relationships, social media tips to protect identity, fitness and health and a variety of activities including a traditional foods presentation by celebrity Apache chef Nephi Craig, team building, physical fitness activities and traditional entertainment. In addition to the youth component of the Conference, Deborah Norris, of the Arizona Department of Education, and Dr. Rea Goklish, of the White Mountain Apache Tribe Indian Education Committee and principal of John F. Kennedy School, provided parents with a presentation on Arizona’s new Common Core Education Standards and how the new standards will impact students in the coming year.
As part of the second day of activities, the Planning Committee hosted a panel discussion on “The Road to Leadership” featuring WMAT Tribal Councilwoman Alvena Bush, Navajo County Supervisor Dawnafe Whitesinger and Arizona State Senator Carlyle Begay. The “Road to Leadership” panel was also featured live on air on KNNB for the community to listen.
“The future of the White Mountain Apache Tribe is our youth. It was a great opportunity to hear from leaders from tribal government, county government and state government on their paths to leadership. There was so much diversification among the panel in education, professional experience and leadership backgrounds. We appreciate each panelist for taking the time to share their stories with our youth and to encourage our youth to continue down a path of strong Apache leadership,” said Harrisen DeClay, WMAT Education Director.
Concluding the second day of the Conference, the White Mountain Apache Youth Council held annual election of officers. The newly elected officers includes: Co-Presidents: Ivan Walker and Mandy Dazen, Vice President: Jade Cosay, Secretary/Treasurer: D’Marco Slick, Public Relations Officer: Chance Hill, and District Representatives: Robinson Foster and Andru Henry for District I, Manuel Dazen and Shasta Dazen for District II, Maria Walker for District III; Ignatius Lupe Jr., Eric Mitchell and Leona Tate for District IV.
The Conference hosted the annual Back to School Bash celebration on July 24, featuring concerts by gospel/hip-hop artist Steve Forte, San Carlos Apache hip-hop artist Standing Fox, Hopi Reggae artist Casper, basketball demonstrations by J-Stylez of the Navajo Nation, baseball demonstrations by professional baseball player and White Mountain Apache tribal member Sebastian Kessay of the Houston Astros, as well as live demonstrations and activities from the Native Air Helicopter Team, Whiteriver Fire Department, White Mountain Apache Police Department and tournaments for youth.
“Our Apache youth are the future of the White Mountain Apache Tribe. As leaders in our community, we have to make the investment in our youth to make a difference, to encourage them,” Velasquez said. “Discussing our community’s social challenges and the negative influences that are impacting our youth does not make a difference and does not address these challenges directly. I am proud of the team that came together to plan this conference and I am thankful to all the youth and parents who got involved, attended, participated and took the initiative to work together as a community to move forward with a strong future.”
The conference concluded on July 25, sponsored by Sunrise Ski Resort, who hosted tribal youth for a day of activities at the Sunrise enterprise.
Throughout the week, more than 700 youth from across the Fort Apache Indian Reservation participated in conference.