The Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community Young River People’s Council has been staying busy during the COVID-19 pandemic. The annual National UNITY Conference is a time for American Indian youth across the country to reconnect with each other and address current and future events happening in the world. This year, the conference was set to be held in Washington, D.C., but because of COVID-19 it is being held virtually instead of in person. Former YRPC vice-president and member Caleb Dash was asked to co-host the 2020 UNITY Virtual Conference, which is taking place as live online general sessions and events from June 25 through July 23.
Dash explained why the conference is divided into different dates.
“It’s separated that way because they wanted to [allow] time for emcees like me to prepare and get different speakers in,” Dash said. “They [required more time for preparation and rehearsal] so we would be prepared for the online experience, because it’s a lot different than in person. They also wanted to reach out to different speakers and representatives.”
Dash’s portion of the conference lasted almost two hours, with break times between sessions for snacks.
“What they had us do was meet at the UNITY headquarters in Mesa,” Dash said. “We all wore a mask, of course, and [maintained] our distance. We had hand sanitizer and all of that. We had a script that they gave us, and they recorded us in their own studio. … [T]hey had their own cameras and equipment ready. We had a rehearsal beforehand, so we were prepared for [hosting our section of the conference] quite a bit.”
Just like the in-person conference, different activities engage the youth with each other and with the conference topics. The Cultural Showcase was on July 9 and the Talent Showcase was on July 14. Musicians, singers, dancers, storytellers, comedians and more videotaped their own performances and submitted the videos for judging. Awards and scholarships were announced, and the Business Plan Competition in partnership with the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development and the American Indigenous Business Leaders encouraged youth entrepreneurship.
The virtual nature of the conference sometimes put Dash’s quick thinking to the test as an emcee.
“My memorable moments were [having to fill in] some air time, because as you know, the technology world is kind of hard sometimes so there’s always errors,” Dash said. “So, I was like, ‘Everybody, let’s do a quick exercise! Let’s do 10 jumping jacks! I see you there—get up!’ I’d just to try to get the youth more involved with the virtual experience, kind of making them feel a little more like normal UNITY [conference], how everyone is always close to each other, having our little jokes and getting to bond together.”
YRPC is encouraging the youth to stay involved in activities like the 2020 UNITY Virtual Conference. The final general session will take place live on July 23, followed by the Quarantine Dance Party. Several post-conference town halls also are scheduled. For the complete conference schedule and to register for remaining events, visit https://events.american-tradeshow.com/unityvirtual/Agenda.
“[Our] goal right now is outreach,” Dash said. “We have our own Youth Council page where we try to involve youth in different events we host in the Community. Whenever there’s a UNITY Conference, we post things on our Instagram and Facebook to try to reach out to youth to get involved, feel empowered, learn some things to better our Community, and just feel great.”
You can follow YRPC on Instagram @youngriverpeoplescouncil on Instagram and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/Young-River-Peoples-Council-YRPC-544046952437068/.