When tragedy struck, Washington state boy found healing in a canoe

Hamilton Seymour, 15, of Bellingham, Wash., introduced first lady Michelle Obama at the first White House Tribal Youth Gathering in Washington, D.C., on July 9, 2015.ROB HOTAKAINEN — McClatchy

Hamilton Seymour, 15, of Bellingham, Wash., introduced first lady Michelle Obama at the first White House Tribal Youth Gathering in Washington, D.C., on July 9, 2015.
ROB HOTAKAINEN — McClatchy

 

BY ROB HOTAKAINEN, News Tribune

 

WASHINGTON — After losing his father to suicide in 2012, teenager Hamilton Seymour said he wanted to find something positive in his life: He found healing by paddling his canoe.

“It’s my personal outlet,” said Seymour, a 15-year-old member of the  Nooksack Indian Tribe from Bellingham, Wash. “It’s where I can get away, even if I’m with people.”

Convinced that exercise is “a stress reliever” and the key to improving mental health, Seymour now is pushing other members of his tribe to deal with grief and celebrate their culture by carving canoes and singing traditional Native songs as they paddle their way to fitness. His efforts are gaining attention.

After Seymour won a national award earlier this year from the  Center for Native American Youth, he found the spotlight on Thursday at the first White House Tribal Youth Gathering, when he was picked to introduce  first lady Michelle Obama before her speech to the group.

“It was just surreal,” said Seymour.

 

 

 

An official in the first lady’s office said Seymour was chosen because his story served as a “source of inspiration” for other Indian youths. But Seymour speculated that there was another reason.

“I’ve been told they did a background check and they looked at our social media,” he said. “And I luckily only have Facebook and I don’t post anything vulgar, inappropriate or like just stupid stuff people post these days.”

Seymour was one of five Indian youths from across the nation cited as a 2015 “champion for change” by the Center for Native American Youth, an award that recognizes youths who are making a difference in their communities. Center officials noted that while most adults are uncomfortable talking about such issues as sexual abuse and suicide, Indian youth leaders are tackling the issues head on.

Seymour, whose parents divorced when he was 6 years old, said he didn’t want to discuss specifics of his father’s suicide. But he said the act of violence leaves survivors suffering.

Growing up, he said, he has learned that “you only get out of this world what you put in,” but he said he doesn’t want to judge others who struggle. He said many Indian kids are growing up in homes where parents are fighting and the children aren’t getting enough sleep or food.

“High school’s tricky,” he said. “You never really know what someone’s going through.”

 

Seymour said his application for the award focused on keeping culture alive through traditional sports. As part of his project, he has lined up 11 other teens to help him paddle canoes in races.

“What paddling is doing for us is getting us stronger – obviously physically, but also mentally, spiritually and emotionally,” he said. “It’s just beautiful.”

Seymour said paddling comes naturally to him, with the tradition strong on both sides of his family.

He said his father, a Canadian Indian who was in his early 30s when he committed suicide, was a champion paddler.

“He was a phenomenal man, and I’d like to carry out his name and his spirit through paddling. . . . I feel like paddling is only one of the few things that I have left of him,” Seymour said.

Some of Seymour’s friends from Bellingham, who are also in the nation’s capital this week as part of various tribal youth events, said Seymour has come a long way.

“I’ve known Hammi my whole life – he’s our baby,” said Sarah Scott, 21, a mentor for the Lummi Nation’s tribal youth recreation program. “In the last year, he’s just blossomed into this natural leader on a national platform, and to me that is just so inspiring.”

 

William Lucero, 18, another member of the Lummi Nation, said it was remarkable to watch Seymour get a hug from the first lady.

“I was jealous,” he said. “It’s so cool.”

Seymour, who will be a junior at Mount Baker High School in Deming, Wash., this fall, said it was a “once-in-a-lifetime experience” to share the stage with Michelle Obama.

“I didn’t know she was that tall,” he said.

When an announcer called his name, saying it was time to introduce the first lady of the United States, Seymour said he temporarily lost his breath.

“I took one step and I felt all the oxygen just leave my body,” he said. “I got told to take three deep breaths. I did that, but my heart was pumping. It was just so great.”

Seymour figures his life is looking pretty bright, too.

“I can’t tell the future, but I’m really hoping, and I really feel like it’s going to be great,” he said.

 

Read more here: http://www.thenewstribune.com/2015/07/10/3910390_when-tragedy-struck-washington.html?rh=1#storylink=cpy

Arizona youth among 1,000 at first White House Tribal Youth Gathering

About half of more than a thousand youth at the White House Tribal Youth gathering wore traditional tribal clothing. More than 230 tribes from across the country were represented. (Cronkite News Photo/Aubrey Rumore)

About half of more than a thousand youth at the White House Tribal Youth gathering wore traditional tribal clothing. More than 230 tribes from across the country were represented. (Cronkite News Photo/Aubrey Rumore)

By Aubrey Rumore, Cronkite News

WASHINGTON — Brooke Overturf of Window Rock, Arizona, was momentarily flustered as she stood holding hands Thursday with Michelle Obama, while hundreds of other Native American youth crowded around, hoping for a handshake.

But the Navajo 19-year-old quickly recovered and pulled a turquoise ring from her hand to give to the first lady.

“I told my mom last night that if I met her (Obama) I was going to give her my ring. I gave her a ring my grandmother gave me,” said Overturf, emerging from the crowd one accessory shy of when she went in.

Overturf was one of more than 1,000 Native American youth representing more than 230 tribes from across the country who had come to Washington for what organizers were calling a “historic” first White House Tribal Youth Gathering. Dozens of youth from Arizona were at the event.

President Barack Obama had called for the meeting in April as part of his Generation Indigenous, or Gen-I, initiative.

The event brought together Cabinet secretaries and elected officials – and the first lady – for speeches and small-group sessions to discuss issues in Indian country and share their stories with tribes and various federal officials.

“Your cultures, your values, your discoveries are at the heart of the American story,” Obama told the cheering gathering, but she said tribes rarely receive credit for their contributions.

But the gathering was less about history than it was about finding solutions to current problems on tribal lands. Most Native youth, including those at the gathering, face what Attorney General Loretta Lynch called “tremendous” challenges.

“Many Native American children suffer post-traumatic stress similar to the level of veterans who have come home from Iraq and Afghanistan,” Lynch said.

For a long time the federal government has tried to “prescribe how the nations should live,” but Lynch said the U.S. government needs to recognize that tribal decisions are best left to the tribes.

“You have to lead, and we have to be your partners,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell, not the other way around.

Lynch, Burwell and other speakers encouraged the youth there to raise their voices. Lynch noted that “when it comes to civil rights and human rights,” young people have the “determination” to generate change.

“Every movement in this country has really been fueled by the energy of young people,” Lynch said.

The young people at the event had to be involved in order to get invited: The gathering was open to Native Americans ages 14-24 who had took the Gen-I challenge to create and document a project in their communities.

For Overturf, that meant organizing a free basketball camp on the Navajo Nation, recruiting help from a former women’s basketball player at Arizona State University, where Overturf is Miss Indian ASU.

She got her invitation in May and had help getting to Washington from ASU and from various sponsors. But many youth had to raise funds to make the trip.

“I know it was a challenge for a lot of Native youth to get here,” said Elton Naswood, a Navajo who works at HHS’ Office of Minority Health Resource Center in Washington.

Overturf said she reached out to other Navajo youth and other youth through the Indian community at ASU before making the trip.

“I could easily go by myself, but I am representing them too,” said Overturf, who routinely reminds tribal youth to “be proud of who you are and where you came from.”

Youth at the event were lauded by the Washington officials who turned out Thursday.

That was echoed by Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-North Dakota.

“We know one thing is for certain,” Heitkamp said. “We must involve youth.”

Despite the emphasis on self-reliance, however, the U.S. government still has to play a role in the betterment of Indian country, Heitkamp said.

“If by the time I’ve left office we have not changed opportunity, education, safety and healthcare on Indian reservations, then I have done nothing,” she pledged to the crowd.

The comments were well received but the first lady was clearly the star of the show.

“Every single one of your lives is precious and sacred,” Obama said. “And you definitely have a president and a first lady who have your back.”

White House to host first-ever Native youth conference on July 9

President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama met with youth from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in June 2014. Photo from Center for Native American Youth / Facebook

President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama met with youth from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in June 2014. Photo from Center for Native American Youth / Facebook

 

Indianz.com

 

The White House is hosting the first-ever Native youth conference this summer.

The White House Tribal Youth Gathering will take place July 9 in Washington, D.C. American Indian and Alaska Native youth will meet with Obama administration officials and the White House Council on Native American Affairs to talk about their issues and needs.

The conference is open to Native youth ages 14-24. Applicants must complete the Gen-I Native Youth Challenge to be eligible to attend.

Applications are due May 8 so Native youth have just a couple more weeks to engage community as part of the challenge.

“The Tribal Youth Gathering, a collaboration between the White House and Unity Inc., will continue to build upon the President’s Generation Indigenous (Gen-I) initiative and his commitment to improve the lives of Native youth across the country,’ the White House said today. “President Obama launched the Gen-I initiative at the 2014 White House Tribal Nations Conference to focus on improving the lives of Native youth through new investments and increased engagement. This initiative takes a comprehensive, culturally appropriate approach to ensure all young Native people can reach their full potential.”