Native American youngsters get a playful intro to campus life

Youngsters playing football

While college isn’t all fun and games, a little outdoor activity can be just the thing to introduce young people to campus life, which is just what Youth Movement is all about.

The program, which returns to campus for its seventh year this Friday, is aimed at giving Native American middle school students an educational and motivational field day experience. More than 100 students ranging from fifth to eighth grade have registered for the May 3 event, which runs from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

However, this year the program will expand beyond the nine tribes of Oregon to include the Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis Reservation, the Quinault Indian Nation, the Puyallup Tribe and the Cowlitz Tribe.

The Youth Movement is a free, annual outdoor field event organized and run by university students to promote active, motivated and connected Native American communities.

The program was first created by UO students in the Warsaw Sports Business Club in the Lundquist College of Business in 2011. Through its partnerships the organization has spread to eight universities across the country, including the University of Oklahoma, Oregon State University, the University of Washington and the University of Arizona.

The UO program is a student-run organization now housed in the College of Education, and the annual Youth Movement event is put on by students in the business club and Native American Student Union. The program has 35 student staff members and is led by faculty advisor Leilani Sabzalian, assistant professor of indigenous studies.

Teens gather for a cheer

This year’s session will include traditional native games such as shinny as well as group dances, language games in ichishkiin, trust activities, art booths, dodgeball and more, according to Erica Mendez, executive coordinator of registration for the UO Youth Movement program.

However, the event does more than just give middle school students space to run around. The goal of the Youth Movement is to inspire future generations and bring together Native American communities.

“A lot of different native cultures highlight the importance of setting up a good world for future generations,” Mendez said. “So, to facilitate a safe space as a college student and show them our longhouse and the other students that are involved just shows that you can create your community once you leave your tribe.”

Participating in the movement is deeply rewarding for the staff as well as the children, according to Executive co-Director Maggie Bidasolo.

“Being able to see the students just fall in love with what we’re doing after how much hard work, time and effort the staff puts in,” Bidasolo says. “It’s a very, very emotional and impactful day when you get to interact with those relationships one on one.”

In addition to outdoor games, Nike N7 founder Sam McKraken will deliver a speech.

Registered participants will meet outside the Many Nations Longhouse on the UO campus at 8:30 a.m. From there, the group will get an educational tour through campus to the Erb Memorial Union outdoor amphitheater. The group will then head to PK Park and Autzen stadium for various game stations throughout the day, concluding with an awards and prizes ceremony.

A free lunch will be included for all registered participants. To register for the upcoming Youth Movement or to learn more about the growing program, visit the YM7 website.

By Bryan Dorn, University Communications