2013 Champions for Change Announced!

Champions for Change will recognize five inspirational Native American youth and highlight their efforts at two events in Washington DC, March 4 & 5.

Washington, DC, February 20, 2013 — The Center for Native American Youth, a policy program at the Aspen Institute, announced today the names of its inaugural class of Champions for Change. This new program at the Center was inspired by a White House initiative and is designed to shine a spotlight on positive stories in Indian Country, promote hope among Native American youth, and engage these successful youth in leadership opportunities. Senator Byron Dorgan (ret.) and the Center will host a pair of events on Monday, March 4 and Tuesday, March 5 to celebrate these five inspirational Native American youth (event details below).

"I am inspired by the incredible stories of leadership we heard from American Indian children through our Champions for Change initiative," said former US Senator Byron Dorgan who created the Center in 2011. "I believe our Champions for Change program will promote hope and recognize the remarkable leadership among young Native Americans." 

The five youth selected as 2013 Champions for Change are (with more details below):

  • Dahkota Brown (Wilton Miwok) - age: 15; hometown: Jackson, California
  • Cierra Fields (Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma) - age: 14; hometown: Fort Gibson, Oklahoma
  • Vance Home Gun (Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes) - age: 19; hometown: Arlee, Montana
  • Joaquin Gallegos (Jicarilla Apache Nation & Pueblo of Santa Ana) - age: 22; hometown: Denver, Colorado
  • Sarah Schilling (Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians) - age: 18; hometown: Charlevoix, Michigan

A panel discussion with the Champions will be held on March 5 from 10:30 am-12:00 pm in the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs Hearing Room (Dirksen Senate Office Building, Room 628). Champions will describe their youth-led efforts as well as highlight the youth priorities for addressing needs in Indian Country. Members of Congress, including new Chairwoman of the Indian Affairs Committee -- Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), will be attending this event to offer words of encouragement to the youth. During their time in DC the Champions will also be touring the White House and Capitol as well as meeting with White House staff, federal agency leaders, and many other distinguished individuals.

"It is important that we tell positive stories of success in Indian Country and use this as a way to generate attention and policy change which address the needs in tribal and urban Indian communities," commented Senator Dorgan.

Teresa Baldwin, who was named a Champion of Change through the former White House program in 2011, said "Being a Champion of Change gave me more motivation to do more for my community and it really helped me gain a voice. It's important for youth to get involved and take as many opportunities as you can."

Supporters of the Champions for Change program include the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, the Aspen Institute, Choctaw Nation, Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, and most recently, an anonymous donor who gave $125,000 to support this project over the next few years. Nike also donated hundreds of dollars of N7 (Nike's Native brand) product for the youth and their chaperones.

"We are delighted to support the Native American Champions for Change program through our scholarship fund," said Walter Isaacson, president of the Aspen Institute. "Supporting young leadership is an important component of the Institute's mission."

On March 4 from 5 to 7 pm, during the National Congress of American Indians' conference, the Center will host its second annual reception (details below). The reception will celebrate the Center's impactful work, which has included over 50 roundtables reaching out to youth of more than 150 tribes across Indian Country, national convenings to collaborate on policy and programming for Native youth, and building an online information resource hub related to improving the lives of Native youth. Several members of Congress, including Congressman Tom Cole (R-OK), Senator Michael Crapo (R-WY), Senator John Hoeven (R-ND), Senator Tim Johnson (D-SD) Congresswoman Betty McCollum (D-MN), Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), Senator Jon Tester (D-MT), Senator Tom Udall (D-NM), and Congressman Don Young (R-AK), are serving as honorary hosts for this event.

Events are open to the public and press. Details are below:

                                    Center for Native American Youth 2nd Annual Reception
                                    Monday, March 4, 2013
                                    5:00 - 7:00 pm
                                    L'Enfant Plaza Hotel; Monet Rooms 3 & 4

                                    Champions for Change Panel Discussion
                                    Tuesday, March 5, 2013
                                    10:30 am - 12:00 pm
                                    Senate Dirksen Office Building 628

RSVPs for the events should be directed to cnayrsvp@aspeninstitute.orgFor more information about the Center for Native American Youth please visit www.cnay.org


2013 Champions for Change - Descriptions

Dahkota Brown, Wilton Miwok
Age: 15
Hometown: Jackson, California

      Dahkota is a freshman in high school who understands the importance of education and the need for encouragement from peers, family, community members, and the school system. Dahkota started his own peer-to-peer study group called NERDS (Native Education Raising Dedicated Students). As part of this study group, Dahkota works with local high schools and middle schools to help Native American students better connect with and relate to lessons. His efforts include working with students to create mock-quizzes as well as reviewing homework and classwork. Through college diversity programs, Dahkota plans to arrange a field trip with his study group to visit colleges and universities in California to encourage his peers to apply for college and continue their hard work in high school.

"I think we are the future and the voice of our tribal nations and the need for education and a college degree is more important than ever." - Dahkota Brown, 2013 Champion for Change

Cierra Fields,
Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma
Age: 14
Hometown: Fort Gibson, Oklahoma

Cierra is a melanoma cancer survivor and now volunteers her time to travel across the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma to promote healthy lifestyles to reduce the risk of cancer. As a current eighth grader in middle school, Cierra visits tribal health clinics, schools, health fairs, tribal district meetings and hospitals to share her personal cancer survival story and tips on how to reduce the risk and prevent cancer. To help share her message, Cierra has collaborated with the Cherokee Nation Comprehensive Cancer Control Program, Mayo Clinic, Circle of Hope, St. Francis Children's Hospital, and the American Cancer Society's Relay for Life.

"As a melanoma survivor, I am compelled to encourage and educate my peers about cancer prevention because the best way to fight cancer is to prevent it!" - Cierra Fields, 2013 Champion for Change

Vance Home Gun,
Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes
Age: 19
Hometown: Arlee, Montana

            Vance was introduced to a Salish language camp by his aunt when he was 11 years old. Vance was inspired by the community members and elders who participated in the camp and has since been determined to become a fluent speaker in his language and invite other young people to get involved. Vance is now a senior in high school and has been working with tribal departments, organizations and youth groups for the past six years to help preserve the Salish language. Vance teaches language classes at high schools and created an organization called Yoyoot Skwkwimlt (Strong Young People) that utilizes peer-to-peer methods to teach language and culture.

"Time is of the essence, and our young Native people are the key to revitalizing our language. Helping them is revitalizing our identity." - Vance Home Gun, 2013 Champion for Change

Joaquin Gallegos,
Jicarilla Apache Nation & Pueblo of Santa Ana
Age: 22
Hometown: Denver, Colorado

            Joaquin has a strong passion in oral health and access to health care. As a college student, Joaquin collaborated with the Center for Native Oral Health Research at the Colorado School of Public Health to secure a grant for a study to determine the dental status of designated tribes in the southwest. Joaquin was able to play a strong role in the grant writing, ensured the participating tribes were approached respectfully, and made certain the research team adhered to the cultural standards of the communities. Aside from this research project, Joaquin is passionate about Indian health policy and hopes to continue to find ways to make a difference and improve the healthcare afforded to Native Americans.

"Having informed decision-makers who have the best interest of tribes in mind is a key component of positively altering the current state of Indian health." - Joaquin Gallegos, 2013 Champion for Change

Sarah Schilling,
Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians
Age: 18
Hometown: Charlevoix, Michigan

            After participating in and learning about the youth-led efforts at a National Congress of American Indians conference, Sarah was inspired to take what she learned and develop their tribe's first youth council in 2009. Sarah worked with the tribal council, her peers, and youth programs in the community to organize and create their own constitution, bylaws, code of conduct, and become affiliated with the United National Indian Tribal Youth (UNITY) organization. Under Sarah's leadership, the youth council has hosted youth retreats, talking circles and other events to address underage drinking prevention, anti-bullying and suicide prevention. Four years after the council was founded, Sarah graduated from high school but continues to serve as a strong leader in her tribal community. She is a junior advisor who engages younger students and encourages them to make a positive transition into new leadership roles.

"I feel the youth in my community oftentimes lack a voice. When we as youth are not represented in the community, our people are living out of balance." - Sarah Schilling, 2013 Champion for Change


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  • 3/7/2013 5:11 PM ndrive Education wrote:
    My daughter Megan Baker has been inspired by Cierra Fields work. She has created a program called TADA Teen Abusive Dating Awareness. I think this is a wonderful. My daughter is 1/4 Cherokee and is greatful to help out in her tribe!! Congrats Cierra! ! You deserve everything good. You are so sweet!!
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