Well-known among active tribe members is that we have a group of outstand- ing young people coming of age right before our very eyes.
But, I can barely contain the pride and joy I feel now that the rest of Indian Country has also begun to take notice.
As you may have heard through the grapevine or maybe saw on social media, Brian Weeden, Sassamin Weeden, and Ke- turah Peters have established themselves as national youth leaders.
Brian and Sassamin were elected as Male and Female Co-Chairs of United National Indian Tribal Youth (UNITY) at the native youth organization’s mid-year conference in Washington, D.C. last month.
Since UNITY was founded in 1976, the election of Brian and Sassamin marks the first time that a brother and sister duo were chosen by their peers to serve at the top level of the national network organization whose mission is to promote the personal development, citizenship, and leadership of Native American youth.
Keturah, meanwhile, was elected to serve as the UNITY Northeast Representative. All three are definitely represent- ing Mashpee well, as they joined 1,000 other Native youth from 230 different tribes across the nation for another first: the first ever White House Tribal Youth Gathering held at the Renaissance Washington in downtown D.C.
The four-day event was the kick-off of President Obama’s Generation Indigenous (Gen-I) initiative, which he called for back in April as a way to help foster a movement committed to improving the lives of Native youth across Indian Country.
What a thrill it was to hear the First Lady, Michelle Obama, talk about how “Gen-I isn’t just a summit. This isn’t just a program. Gen-I is a movement, you understand? It’s about tribal youth from across this continent embracing your heritage, telling your stories, and teaching people about your central role in our history and our future,” Mrs. Obama said.
If you know Brian, Sassamin and Keturah like I do then you know each of them are great examples of native youth who have embraced our heritage, tell our stories and teach people about the central role the Wampanoag people have played in this country’s history.
Yet, even as the history of in- digenous people everywhere must be acknowledged and shared in order to understand how we got to the present moment, it isn’t the end of the story. In fact, it is only the beginning – the foundation from which we can work together to face the difficult challenges impacting our youth in the present, from the prevalence of suicide to other self-destructive behaviors. And, as we are all painfully aware, we are not immune from the pitfalls that can ensnare even the best of us.
But neither are we isolated or alone. We face common problems in Indian Country to which we need common (and creative) solutions.
Now, I know it’s a cliché to say the youth are the future. But, no matter how many times you’ve heard it before doesn’t make it any less true.
Not only Brian, Sassamin and Keturah, but with so many of our youth stepping up in many different ways – succeeding in school, engaged in the community – we should all feel confident that the future of our Tribe will be in very capable hands.
I give praise to our Almighty Creator for giving us these special young people. Please join me in encouraging our youth to dream big, reach far, and to become leaders in every walk of life.
Cedric Cromwell Qaqeemashq (Running Bear)