Aug 5, 2013 - By Alejandra Silva, Staff WriterYouths from Montana continue to make the trip to the Wind River Indian Reservation each year to join their Wyoming friends for the annual Montana Wyoming Native American Youth Leadership and Education Conference. This year marked the 21st time the teenagers reunited to bond and listen to notable speakers offer their advice.
Ernie Bighorn, of Fort Peck, Mont., helps coordinate the event with the Eastern Shoshone Education program each year and travels with the group. He said local tribal organizations first got together to address rising suicide numbers.
Each year, the conference lets youths speak up and identify the issues in their homes or communities. Bighorn said many young adults expressed that they needed positive activities or opportunities in their communities, and they have seen spiritual, religious and culture changes as the tribes modernized and customs changed over time. He said there was also a need for local groups to collaborate.
"Kids need to see their programs work together," he said. "So they can see that there's community support."
The two-day event, he said, had many "at risk kids" who were willing to share their experiences. Bighorn said he has mentored many teenagers in the groups because many were homeless or came from foster homes.
"I see a lot of changes in these kids over the years," Bighorn said.
Naomi Harris of Eastern Shoshone Tribal Health presented a health lifestyles and cross-fit session while Elk Sage of Northern Arapaho Tribal Health relayed the effects of meth on babies and in the home.
Actor and motivational speaker Brian Frejo travels to many youth related events to give his Culture Shock and Created 4 Greatness presentation. He visited with the group Monday to share his story on learning to sing, dance and play the drum even though he knew it would be difficult. He said he grew up in a home where alcohol often was consumed, but he pledged never to take a drink.
"I said, 'I'm not going to be like that,' and I kept it to myself," Frejo said.
He learned to fight off peer pressure, he said, and many knew that he would only take a bottle of water or soda instead of a bottle of beer.
"They were trying to make me drink, and I would get mad," he said.
Frejo later paired up the teenagers and had them interview each other.
On Monday, the group performed prayers and participated in a sweat. On Tuesday, the teens went white water rafting and had elections for the conference leadership group.
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