White House to honor 11 Native youth 'Champions of Change'

The White House will honor 11 American Indian and Alaska Native youth as "Champions of Change" at a ceremony next week.

The youth were selected for their efforts to improve their communities. They are tackling issues like suicide, green energy and bullying.

“The ‘Champions of Change’ for Native American youth are here to share their stories and to attend the White House Tribal Nations Conference. They are examples of the generation that will build a stronger future for Indian Country by continuing to address the challenges facing American Indians and Alaska Natives,” said Charlie Galbraith, an associate director of intergovernmental affairs at the White House.

The ceremony will take place at the White House on Thursday, December 1, at 2pm. It will be webcast at www.whitehouse.gov/live.

The list of honorees follows:

Teressa Baldwin, Native Village of Kiana
Teressa Baldwin has been directly impacted by suicide and wanted to take action to help reduce the rate of suicide in her home state of Alaska. As a junior in high school, Teressa was appointed by Governor Sean Parnell to the Statewide Suicide Prevention council and became one of the youngest appointed representatives in the state of Alaska. Following her appointment, Teressa started her own organization teaching her peers about the signs of suicide and sharing her own story about how suicide affected her life. After facing common hurdles to suicide prevention programs, including high costs and low enrollment numbers in trainings, Teressa has been able to work with 12 schools on suicide prevention programs and is hoping to expand to more. Teressa feels that her work is part of her life goal to help lower the rates of suicide in not only Alaska but the rest of the country.

Morgan Fawcett, Tlingit and Haida
Morgan Fawcett was diagnosed with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) when he was 15 years old. At the time of his diagnosis, Morgan knew that he wanted to help educate others about FASD both among Native Youth and all youth and adults across the country. Morgan has organized concerts and benefits that allow to him to speak about FASD at school assemblies, colleges, community colleges, hospitals, churches and many more. Morgan has also created a flute program that has allowed him to donate over 650 Native flutes to at risk youth and challenged individuals. The Alaska State Legislature recognized Morgan for his work by awarding him the NOFAS leadership award in 2011. Morgan hopes to begin college this year and show others that just because you are born with a disability, with help from friends, family and the community you can succeed.

LeVon Totsohnii Thomas, Navajo
Levon Totsohnii Thomas is currently studying Mechanical Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and has been actively engaged with the Navajo Nation Government. Levon currently sits on the Navajo Green Economy Commission which promotes green businesses/jobs and influences green legislation in the Navajo Nation. In addition, Levon has worked on wind energy development on the Navajo Nation to educate the people on the importance of sustainable development. He plans to use his education to help his community by bringing together the need for small businesses on the reservation with sustainable business practices.

Madeline Sayet, Mohegan
Madeleine Sayet keeps her culture alive by telling the stories of her tribal ancestry through storytelling and plays. Beginning as a teenager, Madeline spent summers creating and teaching shadow puppet plays of traditional stories in the Mohegan language to her Youth Camp. Madeline played a critical role in all aspects of the development and production of these plays which were intended to help children gain a deeper understanding for their heritage and native tongue. She went on to receive a degree in Theater from New York University (NYU) where she also served as Co-President of the Native American Club. Since graduating, Madeline has performed a Native play by William Yellowrobe Jr. and still plays an active role on the campus of NYU as she continues her education. Madeline also writes about her homeland including one short story in University of Nebraska’s forthcoming Anthology of New England Native Literature. She is currently working on her Masters’ thesis which will be a play illustrating the life of her ancestor Fidelia Fielding, the last fluent speaker of the Mohegan language- to be performed in NYC this spring before performing to her tribe back home.

Desiree Vea, Native Hawaiian
When Desiree Vea returned home to Hawaii in 2009 after attending college in New York, homelessness was at its highest since 1997, with its highest rates among Native Hawaiian. Moved by the needs of her community, Desiree began developing a curriculum to help homeless families transition to permanent rentals. During this time, Desiree helped the community see how important their voice was and as the 2011 legislative session began in Hawaii, she conducted her first workshop of 12 people who came together to organize a poverty simulation at the capitol. This group continued with her support to create community cash-flow projects, multi-family markets and micro-enterprise. Now they are rebuilding their community on their own and creating models for other communities.

Iko'tsiskimaki “Ekoo” Beck, Blackfeet
Iko’tsiskimaki “Ekoo” Beck is an advocate against bullying and after earning the My Idea Grant from AT&T and America’s Promise Alliance, she was able to fund her project “Inspire to Lead.” With this program, Ekoo has implemented a program which is providing peer led prejudice reduction, violence prevention trainings for high school, middle school and elementary school students as well as after school programs. In the course of these trainings, participants learn more about the effects of bullying, prejudice and racism and how to end it. Ekoo’s program has impacted hundreds of students in Missoula through community and peer leaders. Due to Ekoo’s work on this important issue, she was appointed as a youth representative on the Board of Directors of America’s Promise Alliance led by and founded by General Colin Powell and Alma Powell.

Emmet Yepa, Jemez Pueblo
Emmet Yepa from the Jemez Pueblo tribe in New Mexico, is an environmental advocate in his tribe and wants to find solutions to help educate his people and future generations about the importance of recycling. Emmet helped to form the Walatowa Green Stars Recyclying Group in 2010 which consists of four youth members and is focused on preserving and keeping their ancestral lands beautiful through recycling. Despite initial challenges to get approval, the Green Stars persisted and currently educate students at local schools and have implemented recycling bins in designated areas within their Pueblo. Since 2010, Walatowa Green Stars had been recognized with numerous awards and given opportunities to speak at local and national conferences. Emmet’s ultimate goal is for his tribe to eventually have its very own Recycling Center.

Lorna Her Many Horses, Rosebud Sioux
Lorna Her Many Horses is dedicated to honoring the American Indian soldiers and veterans who serve this country at a higher per capita rate than any other ethnic group. She has worked with elders and language teachers to translate the Star Spangled Banner into Lakota and Dakota because she feels that our soldiers and veterans deserve to be honored in their own language. To make this a reality, along with the help of others, she was able to record and produced CD’s in her own community that have been given out to hundreds of Native American veterans and soldiers, and more than 50 schools and youth organizations.
Tiffany Calabaza, Kewa Pueblo
Tiffany Calabaza is currently a student at Colorado College and has helped bring renewable energy technology to her hometown of Kewa, New Mexico. Tiffany worked with her advisor and others at Colorado College along with tribal community members and tribal community leaders on education and development of the energy technology. Through her community based research, everyone agreed upon converting one of their community windmills into a solar water pumping station which will pump ground water in a more efficient fashion allowing livestock and other small wildlife to have a source of drinking water. The project continues to involve both Colorado College students as well as Kewa tribal members. The goal is to educate her community on renewable energy technologies so that it will raise awareness on the efficiency and benefits of engaging with this technology. Overall, Tiffany’s goal is to provide her people with solutions to allow the cattle to spread evenly throughout the rangelands and avoid over grazing, preventing further damage to our land.

Cassandra Candice Steele, Pinoleville Pomo Nation
Cassandra Steele started her tribe’s first traditional Pomo dance group and continues to work with a youth group she started to preserve their culture by learning traditions of basket-making, fishing, gathering, beading, speaking the Pomo language, singing traditional songs and ceremonial dancing. Cassandra arranges fundraisers, activities and talking circles for her youth group which she works to keep inclusive of those not only in her tribe but for any children who want to participate. The main focus of the group is to improving life for young people in her community by preventing teen pregnancy, drug and alcohol abuse, suicide, bullying, and preserving their culture and tradition. In addition, Cassandra works to teach environmentally friendly practices to her community, including building a proto type house for their tribal citizens. In July 2011, they broke ground on their first house which will use solar energy, composting toilets, rain water catch system, grey water system and hay bale materials with a culturally inspired physical design. Cassandra remains focused on bridging the gap between the elders and youth in her community to preserve their culture for future generations.

Dallas Duplessis, Alaska Native
Dallas Duplessis is an advocate for healthier eating on her reservation. After seeing firsthand the negative effects of unhealthy eating habits, Dallas was focused on making a difference. Dallas and her family have been involved in the Hilbulb Cultural Center program “Growing Together as families” which teaches families healthy eating habits. From her involvement with the Cultural Center, Dallas was inspired to start the Tulalip Youth Gardeners Club to inspire other kids to garden together with their families. Since the start of the club, they have been able to teach kids to learn about gardening during the opening of the Hilbulb Center, at the Boys and Girls Club and at the Evergreen State Fair where they won ten ribbons. As their club says, their goal is not to be couch potatoes but to grow some potatoes.

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