Introducing the 2017 Champions for Change
CJ, Faith, Mariah, Nancy, and Sam come from diverse tribal communities throughout the United States with unique stories that led them to become the leaders they are today. They possess the skill and passion together to draw strength from their culture, connect with and support their peers, and build a strong future for their tribal communities. Meet the 2017 Champions for Change.
Carroll “CJ” Francis, Jr., Passamaquoddy Tribe
Hometown: Pleasant Point Perry, ME
CJ’s goal is unity, strength, and healthy partnerships for all. After overcoming the effects of middle-school bullying, CJ poured his energy into fostering positive intergenerational relationships. He led youth in his community to create an event honoring elders with a focus on respect and learning from one another. CJ is an active mentor, engaging peers by teaching them about topics that range from healthy traditional foods to protecting natural resources, and more. CJ carefully crafts his educational and leadership experiences so that he can become Chief of his tribe.
“I want our youth to understand the importance of respecting, honoring, and learning from our elders. Our elders are the foundation of who we are, and in order to keep our culture, language, values, and traditions alive, we all must learn to do this.”
Faith Holyan, Navajo Nation
Hometown: Coyote Canyon, NM
After losing a close friend to suicide, Faith started #codepurple, a social media based suicide prevention campaign, to connect peers going through difficult times with friends and loved ones. As a former World Champion in the Indian National Finals Rodeo circuit, Faith uses her title and recognition to advocate for youth suicide prevention and mental health awareness. She also hosts local community events for her peers that serve as safe spaces for discussing mental health related issues.
“There is so much shame and disbelief about suicide that it is rarely talked about; stories and life challenges are not shared. Suicide is a mental health issue, and sharing experiences with one another is important so that we all learn from each other.”
Mariah Gladstone, Blackfeet Nation
Hometown: Kalispell, MT
A graduate of Columbia University, Mariah is passionate about food sovereignty and health and wellness. Mariah created Indigikitchen, a web-video cooking show that teaches viewers to prepare traditional pre-contact foods for modern, healthy meals. Mariah leads culturally-responsive wellness classes like Powwow Zumba to encourage healthy lifestyles in her community, in addition to other classes focused on environmentalism.
"I’m passionate about getting people excited about food sovereignty, but in ways that make it accessible. I think it’s important for indigenous people around the world to decolonize their minds, diets, and really think about wellness from a traditional perspective.”
Nancy Deere-Turney, Muscogee (Creek) Nation
Hometown: Okemah, OK
Nancy is a college senior who started her own initiative focused on cultural preservation called the Youth Enrichment Camp (YEC). For the second year, Nancy will host the camp at a traditional roundhouse on her family’s land to talk to youth about the importance of culture, and the ways in which culture can be used to combat suicide and other issues Native youth are facing. A former Junior Miss and Miss Muscogee (Creek) Nation, Nancy is actively involved in her tribe’s government, and plans to run for elected office for her district’s National Council.
"Our youth are in a hard time right now. We face loss of language, culture, lives, and lack of representation in tribal and federal government. Every elder lost is one more speaker we cannot learn from. I created the Youth Enrichment Camp to target our loss of language and culture."
Samuel Schimmel, Kenaitze/St. Lawrence Island Siberian Yupik
Hometown: Seattle, WA
Sam is an Alaska Native youth who spends part of his year as one of only two Native students in his urban Seattle school. The remainder of his year is spent with family in rural Alaskan villages. In Alaska, Sam’s passion for subsistence hunting and fishing keeps him connected to tradition and infuses his efforts to combat issues like suicide, drug abuse, and cultural disconnectedness. Having seen the effects of climate change in Alaska firsthand, Sam is also an avid environmentalist, working to raise awareness of its effects on tribal communities.
"Losing or not having tradition leaves an empty space that gets filled too often with poor choices. If we are listening to our elders, dancing, drumming, hunting, and picking berries, we are not drinking or doing drugs, and our traditions stay strong."