2014 Champions for Change as Former US Senator Byron Dorgan prepares his speech for NCAI.
WASHINGTON — Last week as five young Native American leaders were recognized at a reception during the National Congress of American Indians mid -winter conference as a former Senator looked on at their smiling faces.
Former U.S. Senator Byron Dorgan (D-North Dakota) founded the Center for Native American Youth, based at the Apsen Institute, three years ago and is in its second year of honoring Champions of Change.
“I got involved because I spent a lot of time on Indian reservations working with Native children and I saw the amount of challenges that children faced. The federal government has not kept its promises in areas of housing, education and health care. And, it bothers me to no end that our country has not done that,” Dorgan comments as he talks about the struggle young Native people faces he witnessed as a United States senator.
The former senator goes on to explain why the organization started Champions of Change:
“We are working on these challenges, stories that break your heart, but we wanted to celebrate success and these are kids that are inspiring to me and inspiring to people on their reservation.”
One of the honorees, William Lucero of the Lummi Nation talked about his work to make young people aware of the dangers of smoking.
“We really encourage people not to smoke and you see older people that smoke and they talk about it, they wish they didn’t. So with other kids, we just want to make sure they know that the younger people will look up to them, so don’t smoke, because you are a role model for them.”
Lucero went on to talk about when he found out he had received the award,
“I was so honored to be picked, but even if I didn’t get picked, they would have seen what we are doing and I was able to share that and show them, that there is plenty of people in Indian Country willing to make a difference.”
The other Champions of Change were: Elizabeth Burns, Danielle Finn, Keith Martinez and Lauren McLester- Davis.
As pictures were being taken, smiles and laughter from friends and relatives, Dorgan remarked about what Champions of Change does for Native nations,
“Number one, they are going to go back to their reservation and become mentors, like many already are and my hope is that they will be the future leaders, the future is all about our kids.”