“It doesn’t make you a leader by the amount of followers that you have, what makes you a leader is how many people you teach and how many people live out the lifestyle that you show them.” Paulette Brown, a member of the Shinnecock Youth Council, shared about her experience at the 2015 International Young Leaders Assembly at the United Nations. The Shinnecock Youth Council was one of many different groups representing the over 1,000 young delegates that filled the General Assembly Hall last summer. The Shinnecock Nation represented the first delegation from an American Indian tribe to participate in the IYLA.
“[It’s] better to try and fail than it is to never try and never find out.” Chuckie Chase
After many months since their participation, Global Peace Foundation USA’s New York/New Jersey Director Sam Kotegawa and GPF USA’s Youth Division Director Kimihira Miyake were invited to the Shinnecock Nation in eastern Long Island. Mr. Weyhan Smith, Director of the Shinnecock Youth Council, shared how the experiences their youth had at the UN was impactful so much that the entire tribe is familiar with the event. Weyhan has made significant effort to expand the world of their youth and the IYLA UN program was an appropriate opportunity to do just that.
Through the IYLA, the Shinnecock Youth Council made a natural connection to Mr. Keoni DeFranco, a Founder and CEO of Lua, a software company. Keoni was one of the youth speakers at the UN. Keoni is a Kanaka Maoli or Hawaiian native. Weyhan explained how the Shinnecock used to be whalers and that there was a history when their tribe traveled by water to Hawaiian where to this day there can be signs of tribal affiliations to the Shinnecock on a few of their gravestones.
Weyhan spent a few hours with the GPF team showing them their school, land, museum, and explaining culture and traditions of their people that are passed on to each preceding generation. One that he shared is when a young man reaches adulthood, he goes through a ceremony of spending time alone in the wilderness without food as he discovers his inner self. Weyhan gave the same explanation to a group from the Southampton Youth Bureau later that evening. Sam Moustafa, a member of the Southampton Youth Bureau shared about his background as part Egyptian and as a Muslim where he fasts from dawn to dusk for the entire month to foster that sense of familiarity between them.
When tension continues to heighten throughout the country, there are those who are hoping to build understanding and cohesion. Southampton and Shinnecock are neighbors, but little interaction happens between them. This small gathering between the Southampton and Shinnecock youth was a first in what they hope to be many encounters to build a greater sense of community between them. Recalling history can often be challenging when addressing present-day situations. But for now, in this particular region of New York, they are taking a step forward and the youth are taking the lead. As Mr. Chuckie Chase shared at the General Assembly Hall in the 2015 summer, “[It’s] better to try and fail than it is to never try and never find out.”