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Vance Home Gun named a Champion of Change

By Lailani Upham

(L to R) Pearl Yellowman Caye, mentor; Debbie Home Gun, mother; Vance Home Gun; and his mentors and advisors Patty and Willie Stevens stop for a moment of smiles on behalf of young leader Vance after the announcement at the CSKT Tribal Council meeting last week. “He has taught me not to be afraid of making a positive difference, he also determines his own path, rarely does he let others determine his path,” stated Caye. (Lailani Upham photo) (L to R) Pearl Yellowman Caye, mentor; Debbie Home Gun, mother; Vance Home Gun; and his mentors and advisors Patty and Willie Stevens stop for a moment of smiles on behalf of young leader Vance after the announcement at the CSKT Tribal Council meeting last week. “He has taught me not to be afraid of making a positive difference, he also determines his own path, rarely does he let others determine his path,” stated Caye. (Lailani Upham photo)

ARLEE — Arlee High School student Vance Home Gun is one out of five Native American youth in the nation, among hundreds of applicants, to be selected for The Aspen Institute’s Center for Native American Youth program called “Champions For Change” based out of Washington D.C.

The Center for Native American Youth, announced the names of their inaugural class of Champions For Change last week.

Champions For Change is a spinoff of a White House program that was launched in summer of 2011 called “Native American Youth Challenge.” President Obama announced the challenge at the 2011 Unity Youth Conference and called for young Native leaders to submit their stories of leadership and service in their communities.

From that first call, eleven students were selected, this year only five are honored in this prestigious program.

The new program at the Center is an initiative designed to spotlight positive stories in Indian Country, promote hope among Native American youth, and engage successful youth in leadership opportunities.

Former Senator Byron Dorgan and the Center will host a pair of events on Monday, March 4 and Tuesday, March 5 to celebrate these five inspirational Native American youth: Dahkotah Brown, Wilton Miwok tribe; Cierra Fields, Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma; Vance Home Gun, Salish and Blackfeet; Joaquin Gallegos, Jicarilla Apache and Pueblo of Santa Ana; and Sarah Schilling, Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa.

“I am inspired by the incredible stories of leadership we heard from American Indian children through our Champions for Change initiative,” said Senator Dorgan who created the Center in 2011. “I believe our Champions for Change program will promote hope and recognize the remarkable leadership among young Native Americans.”

Home Gun, 19, is the only Native youth representing the Northwest region.

Home Gun and his family said they were very surprised when he heard he received the award.

Home Gun says he wants to use this opportunity to gain a better connection with other Native young people, Tribal Council members and strengthen his community.

However, going over Home Gun’s accomplishments and outreach the award should come as no surprise.

Patty Stevens, one of his mentors, says she looks up to the young man for his influence in the community of all ages: kids, youth, adults and elders.

Home Gun carries the nickname “The Elder” in the community because of his behaviors, ways and knowledge he already carries even though he has only been considered an “adult” for just over a year.

When Vance was 11 years old, he was introduced to a Salish language camp by his auntie and was inspired by community members and elders who participated in the camp. Since then he was determined to become a fluent speaker in his language and invite other young people to get involved. He is founder of an Salish language organization called, “Yoyoot Skwkwimlt” (Young Strong People) that uses peer-to-peer methods to teach language and culture.

He is also is a mentor to the Salish Kootenai College language program; and member on the Montana Indian Education Association; a Salish Institute board member and Business Professional Leaders of American member and works for the Salish and Pend d’Oreille Culture Committee. He also has taught Salish language in the St. Ignatius public schools for the past three years.

Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribal Council Chairman Joe Durglo described Home Gun as a person who attracts kids in the community through his efforts because of his positive attitude. “No one is left out when Vance is around,” Durglo stated in a Tribal Council meeting after the announcement of the award through Home Gun’s family and mentors.

CSKT Tribal Council Arlee Representative James “Bing” Matt stated, “He is genuine and has a respect for everyone. We don’t have a lot of young people like that any more.”

Ron Trahan, CSKT St. Ignatius Tribal Council Representative told Home Gun during the meeting, “ My mother-in-law loves to talk about you.”

Trahan’s mother-in-law, and Salish Pend d’Oreille elder Felicite “Jim” McDonald, has been a pillar of language and culture for almost a century on the Flathead Reservation and one of Home Gun’s biggest heroes and mentors, he says.

During the first quarterly meeting in 2012 McDonald was honored for her lifelong dedication to language. Home Gun was present.

Home Gun took the tail end of the comments for McDonald and stated, “All of you in here care about the language – but she (McDonald) cares a little bit more.”

Home Gun is the youngest fluent Salish speaker. He said McDonald was a huge influence and hope to him to keep on keeping on when he at many times felt like giving up. Reality is the language is struggling to survive and revive, “Sometimes I’d feel this is too hard, what’s the use?”

During these trying moments Home Gun would go visit “Jim” and glean wisdom and inspiration. Through McDonald’s words it would render the young lad to take one more step to carry on. “She’s my backbone, so are all the elders and my parents,” Home Gun stated.

According to the Center during the conference, “champions” will describe their youth-led efforts as well as highlight the youth priorities for addressing needs in Indian Country. Members of Congress, including new Chairwoman of the Indian Affairs Committee Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), will be attending this event to offer words of encouragement to the youth. During their time in DC the Champions will also be touring the White House and Capitol as well as meeting with White House staff, federal agency leaders, and many other distinguished individuals.

“It is important that we tell positive stories of success in Indian Country and use this as a way to generate attention and policy which address the need in tribal and urban Indian communities,” commented Senator Dorgan.

Home Gun says the selection for this program is not about him, “It’s about the work that I do for my people and I am being recognized for that.” He says he could not get the recognition without the inspiration and support of his parents, elders and close friends.

Home Gun says that time is of the essence to teach young people the language. Teaching at a young age is the key to stimulating the language, he says.

“Helping them (youth) is revitalizing our identity.”

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