SALT LAKE CITY – Members of Utah’s Native American tribes are gathering at Utah Valley University to voice their concerns to state leaders as part of Gov. Gary Herbert’s annual summit.
A drum circle and flag ceremony kicked off the 9th Annual Governor’s Native American Summit, and state leaders and Native Americans said they hope to learn from each other during the two-day meeting.
Native American communities said Herbert took a step forward by signing an executive order that will require all state agencies to submit a yearly report regarding how they’re addressing the needs of Native American communities.
Herbert said the cooperation the summit and such orders fosters is beneficial.
“That way we’ll get it right,” he said. “We’ll do it in a way that I think will be acceptable to the Native Americans that it’s going to impact.”
Shirlee Silversmith, director Division of Indian Affairs, said cooperation is one objective.
“Often times they will work with one another and say, ‘We’re doing this, maybe you might want to try that’ or, you know, giving them opportunity for networking,” Silversmith said.
State leaders are calling on members of Utah’s tribes to work toward a sustainable future, and leaders like Herbert said education is the key.
“We just need to change the culture so that people understand that high school is not enough,” he said. “We’ve got to go beyond that.”
Herbert reached out to Native American youth, who will be at the summit to learn about science, technology, engineering and math. Silversmith spoke about some of the challenges Native American youth face.
“Sometimes they find themselves being the minority in the classroom, or in the school, or the community, so finding out who they are, and that they can be proud of who they are, and that their identity is really important as they move forward in life.”
Some Native American communities face issues like poverty, unemployment and limited access to medical care and housing. Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox said one way to combat those issues is to make people aware of the resources available to them.
“We need to be working with them, making sure that they’re taking advantage of the great opportunities that we have here in the state of Utah,” Cox said.