A Way of LIFE: Empowering Future Leaders

Photo by LeRoy Grafe.

For the last three years, the American Indian Higher Education Consortium Student Congress (ASC) has hosted a conference by tribal college students, for tribal college students. The Leaders in Future Endeavors (LIFE) conference was created to be an all-inclusive gathering that caters to the need of tribal students. Conference planning was one of the many initiatives the 2017-2018 ASC oversaw. The planning process included finding a host college, booking keynote speakers, and setting up workshops and activities. The ASC used surveys from the last two conferences to make sure this year’s conference was improved.

This year’s LIFE conference took place June 18-22 at Northwest Indian College (NWIC) in Bellingham, Washington. NWIC is on the Lummi reservation located on the gorgeous homelands of the Coast Salish People. The location was suggested by former Northwest Representative Estabon Hayes. A student at NWIC, Hayes is now ASC president and was a key part in making this conference run smoothly. With the past two LIFE conferences being held in the Southwest, we wanted to give students an opportunity to experience something potentially new, as well as the chance to learn valuable leadership skills.

This year’s conference themes were governance, entrepreneurship, and culture. With each theme, the ASC chose keynote speakers to best fit the focus of the day. The ASC wanted to find speakers who were leaders in their respective Indigenous communities so students could see themselves reflected in these amazing people. The wonderful keynote speakers for the conference were Felisha Adams, Jack Soto, Adib Jamshedi, and Celina Phair, who is the treasurer for the Lummi Indian Business Council. All four keynote speakers provided amazing energy and insight.

The last day of the conference was cultural day. For a girl from the Southwest, just seeing the ocean is an experience, but it was more than I could’ve ever expected. Thursday morning was spent exploring Point Whitehorn Park and learning about the history of the area. After having lunch looking out towards Vancouver, we went down to the Lummi Nation Stommish Grounds for our next excursion. When we got there, we were privileged to be greeted by the Three Sisters Canoe Family from the Shxwhá:y village Chilliwack, which is in British Columbia. They took the conference attendees out on their canoes where they taught us more about what they do, as well as teaching us the proper way to paddle a canoe. We were honored that they took time to share with us a part of their Salish culture while we were also able to share things from our varying regions. We ended the day with a dinner song by Noelani Aure, the student activities coordinator at NWIC; the song was followed by a salmon and seafood feast.

The ASC hopes the attendees of this year’s conference learned valuable skills to take back and share with their communities as well as to encourage their peers to participate next year in a conference that helps connect tribal college students with one another.

Scarlett Cortez is a student at the Institute of American Indian Arts.

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