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Youth conference offers messages about culture, community
Idea for event originated after 2016 Ashlynne Mike murder
SHIPROCK — Mariah Bileen waited to drop dough into cooking oil to make frybread outside the Healing Circle Drop-In Center here on Thursday.
Bileen, 17, was making the bread as part of a lesson during the Ashinéé Shiyázhí Youth Conference. She was attending the conference with her sister and two brothers as members of the Kirtland Youth Association.
"We thought of doing something different with the kids," Bileen said about their decision to participate in the event.
Aside from testing her cooking skills, Bileen listened to presentations about college readiness and substance abuse prevention, as well as learning how to develop her music skills.
The youth conference was organized by the Diné Relief Initiative in partnership with Diné Introspective and the Healing Circle Drop-In Center. It is one of eight conferences taking place during a two-week period on the Navajo Nation.
Gjermundson Yazzie, one of the event organizers, said the idea for the conference started after the May 2016 abduction and murder of Ashlynne Mike.
"We want to come together and bring the kids together to let them know that we care for them, we love them and we want them to succeed in life," Yazzie said.
The initial idea was to host an event at all 110 chapters on the reservation and to promote dialogue between young people and chapter leaders that centers on improving communities.
But the conference was scaled down due to a lack of funds, and the workshops that emphasized culture, arts, education and health were presented by volunteers.
Another reason Yazzie helped develop the event was due to his experience of growing up in the Blue Gap-Tachee Chapter in Arizona.
"I feel like if these types of workshops, presentations were brought to my community, then we'd already be advocating for change," he said.
Wanona Theberge, property manager for Sandstone Housing in Shiprock, brought nine children from the housing area. She said the event offered positive messages for the children to learn.
"Majority of the time you hear, 'The kids causing the problems are from the housing complexes, the housing communities.' We are turning them around to doing something positive," Theberge said.
Among the presentations about health, ThinkFirst Navajo focused on injury prevention.
Jodee Dennison, chapter director for ThinkFirst Navajo, said the organization's presentation included demonstrating how to properly wear a bike helmet.
"You only have one body, one brain and one spinal cord," Dennison said.
Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636.