July 2019, the National UNITY Conference welcomed over 2,300 indigenous youths from across the United States to Orlando, Florida for a five-day conference. With the theme, “You belong: Home is here”, the conference held talks and workshops focusing on skills, leadership development as well as varied topics from fundraising to college preparation. The 2019 keynote speakers include John Herrington, the first Native American to travel to space and Kahara Hodges, a professional model and vocalist. Gala dinner, sports competition and beauty contest were also part of the agenda creating a youthful, relaxed yet inspiring ambience.
National UNITY Conference In front of an audience of over 2,300 indigenous youths, the LUMA team proudly presented the cultures of Taiwan’s 16 officially recognized indigenous tribes after enduring three months intensive training and practice. Audiences were engaged and even joined in on the Amis harvest festival song and dance performance. When the presentation concluded, UNITY sounded a drum as a symbol of respect and appreciation from Native Americans to the Taiwan Aboriginals with the entire audience standing in silence.
Broaden horizons In addition to attending the 2019 National UNITY Conference, the LUMA team visited the NASA Kennedy Space Center and Disneyland in Florida. In Chicago, they went to The Field Museum of Natural History, The Art Institute of Chicago, University of Illinois at Chicago and Chinatown, where they volunteered at a soup kitchen serving meals to senior citizens. In San Francisco, they toured the headquarters of Google, Tesla, Plug and Play Tech Center, Stanford University, Pier 39, the Golden Gate Bridge; and in Hawaii, they visited the Polynesian Cultural Center (PCC), Pearl Harbor and University of Hawaii. The 2019 itinerary was made with the purpose of nurturing future leaders. It aims to demonstrate examples of good leadership and not limiting oneself because of one’s indigenous identity. The exposure the youths received will play a key role in their paths of discovering oneself. During the course of the program, from the monthly pre-tour training to embarking on the tour, from never imagining to pursue study overseas, nor the possibility of entrepreneurship or having a career in an international corporation to now believing in all the possibilities. In their visit to Google, they began to set higher career targets for themselves. If they once were uncertain of the sustainability of their cultures, seeing the PCC and attending the National UNITY Conference gave inspiration on how to move forward with cultural preservation. At the PCC, a village elder gave each member a Native Hawaiian name. Team members immediately felt a sense of belonging. They learnt the history of Native Hawaiians and the issues they currently face; with a name, they felt connected to the culture.
Pre-tour training For an entire year, the LUMA team came together monthly for their pre-tour training sessions. The sessions focused first on the learning of Taiwan Aboriginal and Native American culture, and honing presentation and communication skills, followed by preparation for the presentation at the National UNITY Conference as well as learning the history of the sites they will visit in the United States. One of the sessions led by former first lady, Christine Chow Ma, required team members to present a piece of global news of their choice. The session inspired, for the first time, their curiosity for foreign news and the reflection of how it impacts the rest of the world.
LUMA’s future 2019 marks the third annual year for the Indigenous Youth Overseas Study Tour project. Each year, the project improves – whether from the selection of team members, to the training curriculum or tour itinerary, each year is an improvement from the year before. The project was first initiated in hopes to learn the situation and issues Native Americans face today and for the opportunity to exchange culturally, but the knowledge now goes much further. The LUMA team envisions Taiwan to have an organization similar to UNITY which will bring indigenous tribes and youths together. Each team member returns and thinks, “What else can I do?” Perhaps this may be a start.