“Nation building in Indian Country”
Published May 9, 2016
PHOENIX – Morning Star Leaders, Inc was started with the mission to preserve, strengthen, and renew cultural identity among indigenous youth through traditional indigenous leadership and teachings. The nonprofit organization was founded by youth leader, Megan LaRose (Navajo) along with Executive Director, Debbie Nez-Manuel (Navajo), MSW, have been successful in building support for the organization and delivering on its mission.
Morning Star Leaders, Inc (MSL) was founded in February 2013, with the goal to work together to produce effective leaders who work on behalf of their communities, hand-in-hand with other federal, state, and local authorities, schools and post-secondary institutions, as well as nonprofit, business, arts and philanthropic communities.
“The morning star is our compass,” Nez-Manual explained. “We are reminded that the morning star is up early. At the end of ceremony we go out and we greet the morning and there is a star that’s there, it’s there every season, it doesn’t change. We give our offering and pray with intention, exactly what we want to do and accomplish, and that becomes our compass.”
Nez-Manuel has established her professional experiences through work in various for profit, nonprofit, and tribal communities. For the past 18 years, her experiences both on and off tribal lands in the Southwest has contributed to a wide-ranging and diverse professional experience, serving native peoples in prevention, training and intervention.
In 2012, she was searching for an alternate and more effective way to serve urban native communities with an emphasis on the youth. She saw an opportunity to connect native youth in the Phoenix Valley to the local urban tribes, educational communities, learning institutions, and nonprofits while developing strong allies and leaders to serve all of Indian Country.
“I thought that there had to be more we could do,” she said. “Morning Star Leaders formed, registered under the Arizona Corporation Commission and I began to see the framework for our youth empowerment model start to come together. We looked at the philosophy that would guide our mission and what we wanted to do.”
The Center for Native American Youth reported that youth living and receiving education in mainstream society faced challenges upholding tribal identity. They expressed a need to receive support from others in their community to help them further develop identity and connection to their culture.
Morning Star was created and organized to: preserve, respect, value and acknowledge traditional heritage for future generations; to strengthen and cultivate young leaders to build strong Indigenous communities; and renew youth recognition in their rich cultural heritage and actively work to preserve the values.
Last week, the Morning Star Leaders and Youth Council program hosted the inaugural Arizona Native Youth Leadership Summit on April 30. The summit had over 200 participants and was a giant step forward in fulfilling the mission of the Morning Star Leaders organization.
“The youth wanted to do a summit rather than a conference,” Nez-Manual explained. “We wanted dialogue and engagement among people, peers talking about where they come from and the struggles they’ve had while educating their fellow peers.”
Morning Star received overwhelming support for the summit, including Senator Carlyle Begay and the State of Arizona. They received support from native business owners and community members as well as sponsorships from the Gila River Indian Community, Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation, BlueCross BlueShield of Arizona, and several other organizations and entities.
“The degree of support from parents is what keeps me going. The encouragement from our schools and Native American support programs is positive. In our various discussions, we can agree our program brings opportunities for our youth to better understand their own competence, leading to more self-confidence and a ‘can-do’ attitude that spreads to their work and academic pursuits,” said Nez-Manual.
Debbie Nez-Manual earned a Masters of Social Work from Arizona State University and was raised in Klagetoh, Arizona. She currently lives in the greater Phoenix area. Megan LaRose is 18 years old and will be graduating from Mountain View High School.
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