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(Many Paths)
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Unity Conference Selects Flathead Youth Group As Tribal Youth Council Of The Year
by Lailani Upham - Char-Koosta News
(L to R) Back Row: Jacob Hugs, Darius Redstar, Jordan Matt, Willie Stevens, Vance Home Gun, and Rosie Matt. (L to R: Front Row: Lene Trahan, Jon Matt, ArriAnna Matt, Audra Home Gun, Patty Stevens, Naomi Plant, and Frankie Wright. (Courtesy photo)

DENVER — A Flathead Reservation youth group was selected as the Tribal Youth Council of The Year at the UNITY (United National Indian Tribal Youth) Conference in Denver last week.

Last spring, a group of Arlee and St. Ignatius students formed The NkWucin One Voice Youth Council as a support entity for each other and the youth community. Tribal youth develop leadership skills as part of the council’s promotion of a drug- and alcohol-free lifestyle

Youth council members include: ArriAnna Matt, president; Frankie Wright, vice-president; Jacob Hugs, treasurer; Darius Red Star, secretary; and, Jon Matt, Jordan Matt, Lene Trahan, Darius Red Star, Naomi Plant, Vance Home Gun and Audra Home Gun.

“It was a complete surprise to us ... We were not expecting this award,” Vance Home Gun said. “We have only been an official UNITY youth council a little over a year now. But I can most definitely say our UNITY youth here in Flathead do their best in any project we tackle.”

During the time the NkWucin Council formed, members participated in tribal events such as the: Return to the Homeland, Hunting Camp, Coyote Storytelling Camp, Bitterroot Dig and Horse Camp. Council members also helped in workshop activities and presentations at the 2017 Celebrating Salish Language Conference Youth Track Leadership Workshop, and participated in the Special Olympics Torch Run, community cleanups, recycling and community garden projects.

The young adults say they can’t do the work alone and appreciate the guidance and mentorship of the NkWucin Youth Council advisors, Rosie Matt, and Willie and Patty Stevens.

According to NkWucin Youth Council President, ArriAnna Matt, the advisors strongly support the Youth Council. Their contributions and time are keys to making the group’s goals a reality.

Matt became involved with the Flathead Reservation Youth Council in response to the growing concern communities faced after several suicides, as well as the problems related to drug and alcohol use and addiction.

With a dozen suicides in a six-month span, Matt felt it was clearly a state of emergency. The Arlee High School senior took matters in her own hands and organized a student assembly to discuss the issue and give students a chance to let out their emotions. Matt said she felt the teachers didn’t understand what kids were going through or even how to help. “They (teachers) weren’t supportive,” she said. “I wanted them to see (the tragedies) differently.”

Students broke into groups at the assembly to discuss the challenges they faced and brainstormed to come up with ideas for positive change.

“Each group presented their challenges and strengths,” Matt said. The main concerns were suicides, drugs and alcohol addiction, racism and poverty.

The group talks resulted in teachers taking a suicide training to help students if needed in the coming year, Matt said.

“It has been an absolute honor to watch my fellow young people grow and become outstanding young leaders for their peers and tribes,” said Vance Home Gun. He says he is constantly inspired by his peers’ passion to serve tribal youth with real positive change.

“This was the most successful and memorable national UNITY Conference I’ve attended,” said Jacob Hugs, NkWucin treasurer and 2017 UNITY Rocky Mountain Regional representative.

UNITY has a saying that the organization has been changing young lives since 1976. Matt says her life has definitely been one that has changed because of the powerful conference gatherings.

“(Youth) struggle constantly, even adults do,” she said. “We do our best to guide and help people.”

Home Gun said a goal for the group is to help other communities build their own UNITY youth chapter within the Flathead Indian Reservation. However, it’s not easy he said. It takes a lot of perseverance.

“Building a youth based group takes time and dedication, from the youth to parents and advisors,” Home Gun said. “UNITY holds a very high honor code for youth who are selected to lead their peers. This includes being drug- and alcohol-free, no negative social media and things of that nature.”

Fundraising, communication, organizing events and leading by example are a few of the principles members must commit to throughout the year. "I believe in making our young Native people work hard for their opportunities, to strive for perfection through passion and dedication,” Home Gun said. “I know the Creator and our ancestors are with us in this journey we call life. Our history as Indian people only makes us stronger. It's a warrior thing.”

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