Northern Arapaho youth advocate brings perspective from the Wind River Reservation to D.C.
A group of young Native advocates from the United National Indian Tribal Youth (UNITY) organization attended the White House Tribal Youth Forum earlier this month. The eleven delegates from UNITY spoke on panels with federal officials about issues facing Native youth today, like generational trauma and climate change.
Mazie Countryman is an enrolled member of the Northern Arapaho tribe from the Wind River Reservation and is UNITY’s Northwest regional representative. The nineteen-year-old went to the forum and spoke on a panel about boarding schools and the Indian Child Welfare Act titled “Truth, Healing, and Reconciliation.”
“Most of our grandparents have gone through a residential school and have lived through that, and they just wanted us to give our perspective on how it has affected us through generations,” she said.
Countryman spoke on the panel with Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Bryan Newland (Ojibwe), commissioner of the Administration for Native Americans Patricia Kunis (Standing Rock Lakota), Indian Health Service Director Roselyn Tso, and two other Native youth advocates.
She said having the chance to directly talk to White House officials was powerful.
“It was really cool to voice our concerns and voice our opinions that are happening on our own reservations and where we are from,” she said.
The event kicked off with a reception, round dance, and culture jam at the National Museum of the American Indian, with a guest talk from Black Eyed Peas’ rapper Taboo, who is of Shoshone and Mexican descent. The forum is in its third year and its goal is to create a space for federal officials to hear directly from Native youth.
Countryman is also Eastern Shoshone, Shoshone-Bannock, and Navajo, and is currently a sophomore at Idaho State University. As UNITY’s Northwest regional representative, Countryman represents Indigenous youth in Idaho, Alaska, Oregon, and Washington.
Founded in 1976 by Cherokee advocate J.R. Cook, UNITY is a national network organization that promotes personal development, citizenship, and leadership among Native youth. Its mission is to “foster the spiritual, mental, physical, and social development of American Indian and Alaska Native youth ages 14 -24” and their network currently includes 320 affiliated youth councils in 36 states.
Countryman is especially passionate about increased mental health support for Native youth and said she ran for her current position as Northwest regional representative on a platform focused on that issue.
“I made stickers to hand out to everybody and on the stickers, it said ‘You matter’ and ‘You are loved.’”
Countryman said one of the main issues facing young people today is substance abuse.
“We are in a day and age where drugs are a big issue and it's just sad seeing a lot of the youth’s lives going downhill because they choose to go on this path of not-so-good. It’s just good to be there for them and to let them know that you can be a friend,” she said.
When she graduates, Countryman wants to work as a pharmacist on a reservation while continuing to advocate for Indigenous young people. She said she hopes to start her own youth council when she’s older and would love to be an advisor to future Native youth advocates.