Borrowing a lesson from an old Sunday school class he had in his youth, Gov. Gary Herbert told Utah’s Native American community Thursday that like a bundle of string, they are stronger together than apart.

“Part of this summit is to see if we can understand better, walk in each other’s shoes — moccasins — and see if we can collaborate better than we have had in the past,” Herbert said.

Herbert shared remarks during the plenary session of the 2019 Governor’s Native American Summit Thursday at Utah Valley University in Orem before entering a closed-door meeting with tribal leaders.

The summit, which continues Friday, brought together hundreds of Native American youth and leaders under the theme of “planting seeds, spreading roots.”

“Seeds only grow under the right conditions,” Shaun Capoose, the chair of the Utah Tribal Leaders, told the crowd during the plenary session Thursday.

Capoose said the summit is an opportunity for Native American communities to bring their youth leaders forward.

Herbert said it was great to see youth present, and touted the importance of pursuing higher education, along with stating there are opportunities for improvement in areas such as health care.

“We don’t want to see this just as a survival test,” Herbert said. “We want to see it not only survive, but thrive.”

The conference has had separate tracks and schedules for adults and youth for five years, according to Ken Sekaquaptewa, the program director of UVU’s Native American Initiative.

Part of the youth track includes encouraging youth to stop by booths for different universities to learn about higher education options.

Summit classes for youth included sessions on health and how youth can tell their own stories.

“We want the students to develop a voice where they are proud of who they are,” Sekaquaptewa said.

Sekaquaptewa said the summit brings in students who live in both urban areas and on reservations. Being at the summit, he said, gives them the chance to see their tribal leaders in action.

“Most kids aren’t exposed to that, even on the reservation,” Sekaquaptewa said.

An additional push this year for preregistrations launched youth participation to about 120. Sekaquaptewa said that between 50 and 100 youth have preregistered in past years.

UVU has hosted the summit for the last several years, and Sekaquaptewa said UVU has the highest enrollment of Native American students out of the state’s universities.

“This helps with the exposure of UVU’s name in the Indian community,” he said.

For Izabela Pete, a 13-year-old who lives in Cedar City, the event allows her to be around other Piute students, an experience she doesn’t get at school.

“We are the only Native Americans there,” she said.

Izabela found out about the summit through a youth leader and was looking forward to computer classes. She said the lessons will help her in a future career as a social worker working with children in foster care.

For Amy Murphy and her 13-year-old daughter, Jordyn Sheridan, the summit gives them an opportunity to network with other Native Americans.

The two, who are Goshute and live in Taylorsville, recently moved from Nebraska, which meant that Jordyn went from a school that was made up of Native American students to one where she is the only one.

Murphy said that while powwows in Nebraska were social gatherings, the ones in Utah lean toward being more competitive.

“In Nebraska, I feel they are very rich in their traditions, and here we are doing our best to maintain it,” Murphy said.

Braley Dodson covers health and education for the Daily Herald.

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