McLester-Davis a Champion for Change
By Dawn Walschinski - Kalihwisaks
Lauren McLester-Davis was named by the Center for Native American Youth (CNAY), a policy program at the Aspen Institute, as one of five Champions for Change for 2014. The Champions for Change program, inspired by a White House initiative, is designed to shine a spotlight on positive stories in Indian Country, promote hope among Native American youth, and engage young people in leadership opportunities.
“It was great because we all got to talk about what we’re passionate about, the problems and future achievements we hope to see in Native American youth.” said McLester-Davis about meeting with the other champions.
CNAY’s founder and chairman US Senator Byron Dorgan (ret.) and CNAY hosted public events on Tuesday, March 11 to celebrate and honor these five young Native American leaders. In addition to a reception to commemorate CNAY’s third year anniversary on Wednesday, March 12, Champions met with members of Congress.
“I’ve been volunteering in my community in many different ways,” said McLester-Davis. She’s worked with elders as well as had a long term commitment to encouraging literacy through her foundation First Book Greater: Green Bay. “Our total donation of 18,000 books in the past seven years, that’s what I was picked for – the impact it’s had on Native American youth as well as non-native.
“Our Champions of Change program is designed to celebrate the achievements of some Native American youth who are doing important and inspiring work to improve the lives of others,” said former US Senator Byron Dorgan. “Native American youth have had a more difficult road to travel. Too often they have been left behind by government policies that made grand promises but failed to deliver on education, health care and more. These Champions for Change are making good things happen by their own initiative and we salute them.”
The five youth selected as 2014 Champions for Change are:
• Elizabeth Burns (Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma) - age: 18; hometown: Claremore, OK
• Danielle Finn (Standing Rock Sioux Tribe) - age: 23; hometown: Bismarck, ND
• William Lucero (Lummi Nation) - age: 17; hometown: Ferndale, WA
• Keith Martinez (Oglala Lakota Sioux) - age: 20; hometown: Pine Ridge, SD
• Lauren McLester-Davis (Oneida Tribe of Wisconsin) - age: 16; hometown: De Pere, WI
Dahkota Brown, a fifteen year-old from the Wilton Miwok Tribe, was named a Champion for Change in 2013. Describing his experience last year he says, “Being a Champion for Change motivated me to expand my peer-to-peer tutoring program to benefit students from other tribes and has really helped me become a strong leader in my community.”
A panel discussion with the five Champions will describe their leadership efforts as well as advocate for Native American youth priorities and concerns. Senator Dorgan and Sam McCracken, General Manager of Nike’s N7 Programs will co-moderate the event. During their time in DC, the Champions will meet with White House staff, Members of Congress, federal agency officials, tribal leaders, and many other distinguished individuals.
“It is important that we highlight positive stories in Indian Country and share the powerful voices of youth to advocate and impact policy,” said Erin Bailey, director of CNAY. “These Champions will not just be a part of one event. They will become a part of CNAY’s youth advisory board and serve as partners to us as we work with Indian Country to improve the lives of Native American children.”
CNAY will host a reception to commemorate its three years, during the National Congress of American Indians’ Executive Council Winter Session, to celebrate its work, which includes: outreach to over 3,000 youth from more than 250 tribes; national convening series to increase federal collaboration on policy and programming for Native youth; and successful advocacy efforts.
Senator Tester, chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, as well as leaders from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and Casey Family Programs are expected to speak. Several members of Congress have joined as honorary co-hosts, including eight members of the US Senate and more than ten members of the US House of Representatives.
Support for the Champions for Change program includes an anonymous donor who gave $125,000 last year to support the Champions for Change program. Nike N7 has also donated hundreds of dollars of merchandise to congratulate the new Champions.
Center for Native American Youth is dedicated to improving the health, safety and overall well-being of Native American youth through communication, policy development and advocacy. Founded by former US Senator Byron Dorgan in February 2011, CNAY is a policy program within the Aspen Institute, headquartered in Washington, DC. The CNAY works to strengthen and create new connections as well as exchange resources and best practices that address the challenges facing Native youth, with a special emphasis on suicide prevention. Visit CNAY’s website for a comprehensive list of resources available to young Native Americans, tribes and the general public. For more information, visit www.cnay.org.
The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, DC. Its mission is to foster leadership based on enduring values and to provide a nonpartisan venue for dealing with critical issues. The Institute is based in Washington, DC; Aspen, Colorado; and on the Wye River on Maryland's Eastern Shore. It also has offices in New York City and an international network of partners. For more information, visit www.aspeninstitute.org.