Introducing the 2016 Champions for Change!
CNAY is proud to announce the fourth class of Champions for Change! Brayden, Christie, Noah, Sam and Vanessa are all working within and beyond their tribal communities to educate and support their peers, improve their communities, and positively change the dialogue on young people in Indian Country. As with previous classes of Champions for Change, these five leaders will join CNAY's Youth Advisory Board, where their expertise as community leaders and young advocates will help to inform the ways in which CNAY works to fulfill its mission. Read on to meet the 2016 class of Champions for Change!
Brayden White, St. Regis Mohawk Tribe
Hometown: Hogansburg, New York
As a first year college student, Brayden founded Helping Hands, a peer education and mentoring program focused on drug, alcohol and suicide prevention. Through the program, Brayden teaches his tribal community about making positive choices and how to recognize and respond to signs of suicide. Most recently, he began working with tribal leaders and community mental health professionals to form a youth group of Crisis Mediators, who will serve as first responders to peers in need of immediate support. Through Helping Hands, Brayden is working to save lives and remove the stigma too often associated with those who seek help in restoring mental wellness. He is also a youth lacrosse coach and leads a Native American student group at his college.
"My initiative is geared to make sure that the tragic epidemic of suicide doesn’t ever occur upon my Nation or upon any other Nation."
Christie Wildcat, Northern Arapaho Tribe
Hometown: Riverton, WY
Christie’s community is located in a border town where racial tensions run high. To combat negative misperceptions of Native people and promote positive relationships between people of all races, Christie founded the Wind River All-Action Crew, a youth group that seeks to transcend racial barriers and stereotypes through a lifelong-commitment to community service. Christie works with both Native and non-Native youth to enact a wide range of service projects benefiting Veterans, families in need, elders, and many others in their community. Understanding that Native youth struggle with an unwelcoming school environment, Christie took action to increase the representation of Native history and culture in her school through guest speakers, art exhibits, storytelling, and cultural events. Christie is also an accomplished artist, using her prize-winning depictions of Native culture and history to tell stories of her people.
"My dreams may seem farfetched to some people, but in order to survive as Native people and retain our culture and heritage, we cannot sit back and keep them as dreams. I plan on going to school and coming back to make them a reality."
Noah Blue Elk Hotchkiss, Southern Ute Indian Tribe / Southern Cheyenne/Caddo Nation
Hometown: Durango, CO
Noah is a high school student who secured funding from the Billy Mills Dreamstarter program to launch Tribal Adaptive Organization, which uses adaptive sports like wheelchair basketball camps and mono-skiing to address the needs and promote the strengths of Native Americans with disabilities and is an accomplished athlete himself. Noah sees sports as a tool to build independence and responsibility. He’s working with individuals, tribes, and government to create a more disability-friendly future in Indian Country.
"Adaptive sports changed my life, it’s given me purpose and self-confidence. I think many of our disabled Natives could become strong tribal leaders because of our ability to adapt.”
Samuel Slater, Navajo Nation
Hometown: Bethesda, Maryland
For the past four years, Sam has led the Navajo Nation Service Learning Trip, an effort his family plans and created with his high school in Washington, DC. In collaboration with his school, tribal government, and various agencies and individuals on the Navajo Reservation, Sam coordinates a two-week learning experience each year that teaches non-Native students about tribal history, innovation, sovereignty, government and culture through direct community service. Sam’s initiative enhances what he describes as the educational system’s limited curriculum on American Indian history and culture. With the trip as an educational tool, Sam seeks to enhance his peers’ understanding of Navajo culture through meaningful shared experiences.
"American Indians as sovereign nations need partners outside of Indian Country. One of the most important aspects of nation building is the careful cultivation of allies."
Vanessa Goodthunder, Lower Sioux Indian Community
Hometown: Morton, Minnesota
Vanessa believes that language can be used to heal from historical trauma and has dedicated her life to learning and teaching her languages. Vanessa works with a nonprofit organization called Dakota Wicohan (Dakota Way of Life) as both a youth participant and later, a language instructor supporting Dakota language curriculum development. She teaches at youth leadership programs, community language nights, schools, and through a community program centered on youth engagement and horse culture. As a Generation Indigenous Youth Ambassador, Vanessa also started the Daunkotapi group, which connects youth from the four Dakota communities in Minnesota to talk about issues facing Native youth today, discuss solutions, and provide peer support. The group meets regularly and includes tribal leaders, program staff and youth.
"Together we will try to learn the language and help one another. If we help each other, then we will stand strong together."