BARAGA - There are many social problems at the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community, and confronting those issues in the future will be the job of the tribe's young people.
To help those young people deal with issues such as alcoholism, drug addiction and domestic violence was the purpose of the National Intertribal Youth Summit conducted from July 24 to 28 in Santa Fe, N.M.
Cheryne Clements, KBIC director of Youth Programs and Facility Coordinator, said she took two students to the summit: Sierra Ayers, 17, who will be a senior this coming school year at L'Anse High School, and Savannah Dakota, 17, who will be a senior at Baraga High School.
Clements said KBIC received an invitation to the third annual summit, which featured presentations from Native American leaders as well as representatives of the federal government. This was the first time KBIC attended. Also taking part were students from many national tribes and three Michigan tribes, including the Bay Mills Indian Community and the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians.
"There were 175 youths from 45 recognized tribes," Clements said.
In order to take part in the summit, Clements said students had to write an essay about the issues facing KBIC members.
Besides being impressed with their essays, Clements said Ayers and Dakota are leaders in the community.
Clements said the summit was a hands-on experience for the youth who attended.
"This is a way to get information to tribal youth," she said.
For example, Clements said there were workshops on prescription drug abuse, alcohol abuse and financial literacy.
The summit was not a vacation for the attendees, Clements said.
"Our days started at 7 a.m., and we had lights out at 9:30 p.m.," she said.
The days began with a Zumba exercise program, Clements said, followed by workshops and field trips.
One of the speakers during the summit, Clements said, was professional golfer Notah Begay III, who is the only Native American golfer on the professional tour. He started the Notah Begay III Foundation, which provides health and wellness information to Native American youth.
"He had a really good message about being successful and overcoming adversity," Clements said.
There were five state attorneys-general at the summit, mostly to listen to participants talk about their concerns.
Ayers said she wanted to attend the summit because she wanted to learn how other Native American groups are dealing, or not dealing, with many of the same issues facing KBIC. Much of those issues were covered in workshops.
"We did a lot of leadership-type things," Ayers said. "Substance abuse is a really big problem. I would love to tackle that."
Whatever she brought back to KBIC, Ayers said she and Dakota are not going to be able to deal with the tribe's problems by themselves.
"It's important to get other youth involved," she said.
Ayers said she, Dakota and Clements would like to start a youth council as part of tribal government, but that may take awhile.
"Things happen slowly," she said.
Ayers said she was impressed with the fact five U.S. district attorneys at the summit were involved with the process.
"They made it really clear they didn't want us only to learn, but they wanted to learn from us," she said.
Ayers said she's probably going to an out-of-state university to study actuarial science after graduating from high school. She may come back to KBIC after university, but before she leaves, she wants to encourage other tribal youth to think about the tribe's problems.
Dakota said she's glad she went to the summit.
"It was very educational," she said.
She's going to attend the University of Michigan, Dakota said, possibly to get a degree in some sort of writing. She thinks she may return to KBIC after graduating.
"I might actually come back to live here after I finish school," she said.
Dakota said before leaving for U of M, she'll be active in trying to establish a governmental-level youth council, which would be new to the tribe.
"We used to have a youth council," she said. "I think (tribal government officials) would be open to the idea."
Clements said there was no cost to KBIC for herself or the two students to attend the summit, and she thinks the time spent was worth the effort.
"I thought it was a great opportunity for our youth to see other tribal youth and learn what they're experiencing and know they're not alone," she said.