Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation Wellness Connection Services, the PBPN Youth Outreach and Prevention Program, and the Kickapoo Native Connections Program collaborated to host the first Kansas Intertribal Youth GONA (Gathering of Native Americans) over the weekend of August 12-14, 2022.
The gathering was a huge success and allowed Native youth from various tribes and communities to come together and learn about the program’s guiding concepts of Mastery, Interdependence, Generosity, and Belonging. The Youth GONA encouraged personal discovery and built strong connections using conversations, arts and crafts, and group activities in order to help participants explore the cultural components of embracing community and healing.
The GONA framework is an almost four-decade-old proven model developed by the Native Wellness Institute to assist communities in healing from the lasting impacts of colonization.
Lovina Louie, Wade McGree, and Cody Wilson were the visiting Native Wellness Institute facilitators who led this three-day Youth GONA. They engaged participants in many fun activities incorporating fitness and movement as well as important discussions surrounding intergenerational trauma and healing.
Local volunteers also helped make the Youth GONA a success. Skyla Wakole, Independent Living Program Services Coordinator for PBPN Social Services, said, “I chose to volunteer for the Youth GONA as it was a great opportunity for the youth to experience different aspects of growth. I wanted to be involved with the youth who are a part of the Independent Living Program and make them feel welcomed as they attended this special opportunity to learn and grow about themselves as they continue their journey to build strong connections. Seeing all the youth who felt like they belonged and on a personal discovery was absolutely amazing to witness. The Wellness Connection team and the others who helped make this event possible did an amazing job!”
Other local community members came in to share their knowledge and gifts with the youth. Gubba Hale, Mi-Kes Potts, Brennah Wahweotten, and Michelle Simon all volunteered their time to lead sessions on learning to bead, sewing, making stick ball sticks, and hand drum making.
Native chef Jason Champagne prepared a delicious lunch on Friday sponsored by Kickapoo Nation. Amber Shobney, Iva Rank, and their family prepared a traditional-style supper for youth and their families on Saturday evening.
“I was amazed to see all the different cultural backgrounds of the Native American youth that attended Youth GONA,” Amber Shobney said. “I have two children who attended, and they were so informative of what they learned, and it really impacted them. I created an activity to do with the youth as a member of PBPN Vocational Rehabilitation. It was a fun but educational game that taught disabilities, mental health, and substance abuse in teens. I also cooked the Traditional Meal with my parents, Iva and Dylan Rank. It warmed my heart hearing the feedback from youth who have never had traditional foods. I really look forward to partnering with PBPN Wellness Connection Services again.”
Iva Rank expressed how proud she was of her daughter’s involvement and commitment to sharing traditions with the youth. “I know she was wanting to prepare a traditional meal for the GONA activity. She is very proud of our Traditional meal that we prepare at our church services (The Native American Church Chapter 1), and she wanted them to experience the traditional foods that we use.”
The meal was prepared using the most important traditional foods and ingredients including Water, Kakaswabo (corn), pumpkin, and berries. The rest of the meal was also traditional, using buffalo for the soup, milkweeds, pork gravy and, of course, frybread.
“What was memorable for me is to see my daughter grow into a woman that will help carry this on,” Rank said. “It is important that our children know these ways so we don’t lose this for our future children. I think it is an honor to be able to help with this knowledge for our children.”
PBPN Casino & Resort provided breakfast and lunch on Saturday and Sunday. Various programs provided monetary sponsorship to make this event possible, including PBPN Wellness Connection Services, PBPN Social Services, PBPN Social Services Advisory Board, PBPN and Kickapoo Boys and Girls Clubs, Kickapoo Tribe Native Connections, Kickapoo Tribe, PBPN Vocational Rehabilitation, and PBPN Diabetes Prevention Program.
The Youth GONA organizers wish to thank the committee who helped with the months of planning for the event: Joanna “Dumps” Mitchell with PBPN Boys and Girls Club Outreach and Prevention program, Josh Langi with Kickapoo Tribe Native Connections, and the evaluation team with KU- CPPR.
They also want to thank Kelly Lewis, Skyla Wakole, Jama Bettis, Erin Turvey, and all of the community volunteers who took time out of their weekend to help make this event a success.