IDENTITY, CULTURE, AND LANGUAGE: NATIVE AMERICAN YOUTH GATHER AT MCKINLEYVILLE HIGH SCHOOL
The sounds of Native American music echoed the halls at McKinleyville High School. Students from Mendocino, Del Norte and Humboldt Counties gathered together for a conference for Native American teens. They want to learn more about their culture and their identity as native peoples, and maybe integrate that into the classroom. Student Kayla Maulson added, "its really important to keep our traditions and even telling stories. A little story can go along ways."Students from 14 schools participated in the bi-annual Native American Youth Conference, and this year marks their 20th anniversary. Dr. Lara-Cooper started the conference right here at McKinleyville High School in 1993. Cooper added, "Culture is a part of our people, always has been apart of our people. It’s something that very resilient and has survived a long history of genocide."And the theme this year is ‘Who Am I?’ Students are focusing on their identity. One of the topics discussed is the use of Native American mascots. Cooper said, "In a lot of ways mascots are all we know about native people. And different images that our portrayed on natives really are misrepresentations."Brnal Rojas is a member of the Native American Club at McKinleyville High School, and tells us he doesn’t feel these mascots are accurate representations of his people. Rojas added, "other people don't know the history behind everything they think we are like those mascots...it just really offends me in that way."The unique part about this conference is that it is entirely ran and operated by the students. Cooper added, "the youth decide who will be the speaker, they write grants for funding and so everything is organized by youth."The purpose of the conference is to integrate Native American culture into the school system, and help Native American students learn more about their culture.