2023 Nimiipuu Youth Gathering of Native Americans (GONA): A Journey of Belonging, Mastery, Interdependence, and Generosity

The 3rd Annual 2023 Nimiipuu Youth Gathering of Native Americans (GONA) was an outstanding success. Months and months of preparation went into ensuring that every aspect of this event was well thought out and organized. NAHOVA and Students for Success (SFS) staff left no stone unturned in ensuring that the event would be an unforgettable experience for all attendees.

GONA 2023 featured a series of presentations and workshops led by renowned leaders sharing their insights and experiences, providing all attendees with valuable knowledge and inspiration. Each day of the GONA had a specific focus, guiding participants on a path of self-discovery and community building.

Excitement filled the air as people from different tribes and backgrounds gathered, eager to connect and make positive change. The event was attended by youth, professionals, community, and tribal members all eager to connect and learn from each other.

The theme for the first day of the GONA was Belonging, ensuring that everyone felt welcome and embraced. To break the ice and foster a sense of camaraderie, our facilitator Gerald Crowshoe, and the NAHOVA youth board led some engaging icebreaker activities. The icebreakers proved to be a success as laughter and joy echoed throughout the event center as strangers quickly turned into friends. The spirit of togetherness permeated the atmosphere, setting the tone for an extraordinary three-day journey of healing and transformation. The first day’s guest speakers included respected elder (and former SFS staff member) Agnes Weaskus, Kiara Garcia from Nimiipuu Behavioral Health, the inspirational Shannon Nicholai, and the always entertaining and educational Kellan Trenal.  On this evening, SFS and NAHOVA hosted a BBQ beach social (Tribal Police graciously barbequed for us) for attendees to come to eat some delicious burgers and hotdogs, socialize, and play games.

The theme for the second day centered around Mastery, inviting individuals to learn about and recognize how historical trauma impacts their community. Through different activities, discussions, and storytelling, attendees delve into the complexities of historical trauma, acknowledging the pain while also empowering individuals to reclaim their identity and strengthen their cultural heritage. Special Guest Speaker Dr. Meagan Rides At the Door, the National Native Children’s Trauma Center Director did an excellent job putting historical trauma into a context that the youth/audience could comprehend through a group activity that had a surprise ending!  Trina Webb from the Nez Perce Language program shared a Nez Perce Legend in Nimiipuutimt and helped to decipher the meaning of the legend.  The evening activity for this day was a teen dance (Guest DJ Big Rez kept the kids grooving!) and a mini stick-game tournament which according to the majority of attendees was the best activity.

On the third day, the focus shifted to Interdependence and Generosity. Interdependence meant recognizing the importance of collaborative planning, assessing resources, and nurturing relationships within the community. This day highlighted the power of collective action and the potential for growth when individuals come together. Guest Speaker Levi Horn, a former NFL football player captivated the kids with a strong heartfelt presentation.  Kellen Trenal returned for an encore and led one of the biggest games of rock, paper, scissors!  The kids loved his energy!  Generosity, the other aspect of the day, emphasized creating gifts to share, symbolizing a larger gift of healing and hope. Participants engaged in various creative activities. The act of giving became a powerful symbol of the community’s resilience and commitment to uplifting one another.

The event had surpassed all expectations, leaving a lasting impact on everyone involved. The journey of healing and transformation experienced by the youth was truly remarkable, setting the stage for a brighter future for Indigenous youth and Indigenous communities. GONA has become a beacon of hope, a space where young Indigenous voices are amplified, and where healing and empowerment flourish.

The 2023 Youth GONA was a resounding success on every front. From the year-long preparation to the event days itself, every aspect of the gathering was meticulously planned, NAHOVA youth board members put in a lot of work! The generosity and unity displayed throughout the three days were a testament to the resilience and strength of the youth living in our Indigenous community. The 2023 GONA has set the stage for an even more remarkable event next year, promising to be another year of celebration of culture, healing, and transformation.  The NAHOVA youth board and the Students for Success Program would like to thank all their sponsors, the guest speakers, and everyone who attended!  See you all next year!

Written by Cece George, NPT Students for Success Prevention Outreach

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