High school Leadership Challenge inspires Native American youth

By Rhonda LeValdo-Gayton
Lawrence, Kansas (NFIC) August 2010

  Chaske Spencer
High school students from various Native American tribes were selected to participate in a weeklong leadership camp held on the campus of Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, Kansas.

The BIE (Bureau of Indian Education) Leadership Challenge is a program designed to encourage and support the youth to facilitate and stimulate a desire in students to undertake their role as leaders in their community.

From attending a range of sessions throughout the day, to planned activities at night these students were busy.  But they also received various surprises throughout “Twilight” actor Chaske Spencer who spent the morning talking to the students about their goals.

“I told them my experience as an actor and it is a lot of hard work, but if you have a dream, believe in that dream… hold on to that dream, and with hard work you will achieve it.  I was also very proud of them (students) for being here, because it is a step forward to being successful.”

Other surprises included a lunch with Olympian Billy Mills, who still is today the only American to win a gold medal in the 10,000-meter run. Mills received a standing ovation on conclusion of his speech. Impressed by Mills speech, Miss Indian World Teyotsihstokwathe Dakota Brant said,

  Team building exercises were
part of the Leadership Challenge
“Seeing how he (Mills) achieved his dream, and then letting these kids hear it is great. It really empowers me to see these young people take on this challenge, knowing they are here and have that potential is really powerful.”

By the end of the conference, the students were clearly motivated by the sessions like participant Jerrod Tanner who stated, “I am going to take all this knowledge I learned and spread it to my reservation and my people and change my life.  One day I will become one of these people, these leaders, and tell my story.”

The BIE Leadership Challenge is open to any Native American high school student in grades 9-12 and selection is based on academic records, as well as social standing.    Haskell has hosted the past two Leadership Challenges.  More information can be found on the BIE website.