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More Native youth arrive in nation's capital for UNITY conference

The United National Indian Tribal Youth opens today in Washington, D.C., Phoo from Facebook

The focus on Native youth in Washington, D.C., isn't over yet.

The excitement from the historic White House Tribal Youth Gathering on Thursday will carry over to another event in the nation's capital.. Nearly 1,500 young Native Americans from all areas of the country are in town for the 39th annual United National Indian Tribal Youth conference.

The event began this morning with a ceremonial lighting of the UNITY fire at the Renaissance Downtown Hotel near the White House. Assistant Secretary Kevin Washburn, the head of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and William Mendoza, the director of the White House Initiative on American Indian and Alaska Native Education, were the special guests.

The first session of the conference opens in the afternoon. Minister Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam will deliver the keynote and invite youth to participate in the Second Million Man March this October.

Throughout the four-day event, youth will discuss some of the issues facing their communities. The agenda includes sessions on suicide, sexual assault, alcoholism and cultural identity.

Participans also will hear from actor Adam Beach, marathon competitor Alvina Begay, Miss Indian World Cheyenne Brady and Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient Suzan Shown Harjo and other inspirational Native leaders.

UNITY was founded in 1976 by J.R. Cook, a member of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, to help Native youth develop leadership and other skills. The organization was a co-sponsor of the White House gathering yesterday.

After more than three decades at the helm of UNITY, Cook stepped down from his executive director role in 2013. Mary Kim Titla, a former television journalist who is a member of the San Carlos Apache Tribe, took over those duties that year.

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