By Anthony Fleg, Native Health Initiative
Service work often rewards with intangible benefits: meeting great people, satisfaction in knowing that you are working for a better world.
However, Emmet Yepa, a local youth leader received a very tangible reward for his service last week when he was invited to meet President Obama at the White House because of the work he has done to protect Mother Earth.
Emmet, who comes from the Walatowa (Jemez) Pueblo, was one of eleven American Indian youth nationwide to be selected by the White House as a “Champion of Change” for his work to create a recycling program in the Walatowa Pueblo. The program asked youth to tell the President about their service and leadership work they are doing in their communities.
“I am really honored to be accepted for this trip, and want to learn from this so that I can bring information back to our youth in New Mexico,” said Emmet as he headed to the nation’s capitol. He talked about the other founding members – Tianie and Lindsay Toya and Mark Panana – of the Walatowa Green Stars, his family, and the Walatowa community who he would be representing in his trip.
The Champions of Change ceremony took place December 1st at the White House, and each youth was given a chance to speak about the work they are doing. (click here to see video of the event). The following day, the eleven youth attended the Tribal Nations Conference at the Department of the Interior, meeting with Obama privately before he spoke to the assembled leaders.
“He is such an amazing, powerful and humble individual,” commented Emmet from that meeting.
In fact, Emmet says that the most powerful part of the trip for him was the Tribal Nations Conference. “It was a great feeling being with the leaders of the Indigenous Nations of this country…It made me think that I want to have the Green Stars further into the process of getting a recycling center. I want to be able to say that I accomplished more than I expected before I head off to college, for our Pueblo and for Mother Earth.”
Yepa, who will head to college this coming fall, and who plans to become a lawyer, sees more clearly the need to advocate for Indigenous rights after his trip. “I want to be a part of reclaiming the resources that are rightfully ours, such as clean water and land.”
Among Emmet’s other leadership capacities are his involvement in traditional activities and music in Walatowa, pow wow drumming with Northern Vibe, his work as a member of the first graduating class at the Native American Community Academy, and serving as a coordinator for the Native Health Initiative. In the latter capacity, he has presented at health conferences with the Green Stars and is working to help other youth beginning similar sustainability efforts using the Green Stars’ model.
Emmet was accompanied by his mother Adrianna Loretto, father Maury Chalan, sister Angelina Loretto, and his brother Jace Chalan.
New Mexico was represented two-fold at the event, as Tiffany Calabaza from the Kewa Pueblo was also invited for her work in renewable energy, working to convert a community windmill into a solar water pumping station.
Excerpts from Emmet’s letter to President Obama:
Greetings, President Obama, my name is Emmet Yepa, I’m 17 years old and a citizen of Jemez Pueblo…The world’s environmental issues have changed drastically over the past 100 years. These issues concern me; I want to find solutions to educate my people and future generations about the importance of recycling. Creating the program took a lot of courage and leadership because there had never been a recycling program in my Pueblo before. The Walatowa Green Stars Recycling Group was formed in 2010 and consists of 4 youth members…I’m determined to preserve and keep our ancestral lands beautiful…My ultimate goal is for my tribe to eventually have its very own Recycling Center.