They learn about government while helping their community ◆ By Mike Hiles
Young members of the Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians are preparing for the time when they will be asked to step up and help lead their tribe. As a sovereign nation, it is governed by a Tribal Council made up of five individuals. To be ready for that day, young members are encouraged to join the Soboba Youth Council and learn what it takes to govern their peers.
The objectives of the group are to provide a collective voice and represent the tribal youth in all matters that concern them; to serve as a means of mobilizing and coordinating the actions of the youth, other community members and organize them towards positive goals; to promote the development of future tribal leaders; and to complete community service projects and provide opportunities for the youth to interact with the community for fun and fellowship.
Jennifer DeVore-Garcia is the Activities Director and Soboba Youth Council Coordinator who has been working with the teens and their parents for three years.
"To be on youth council you must be 13 to 18 years of age and a Soboba tribal member or of a Native American descent who resides on the Soboba Indian reservation," DeVore-Garcia said. "Only an enrolled tribal member of Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians can hold an officer's position."
The youth council has five officers that serve a term of one year plus 10 members. Current officers elected in September are Autumn Vivanco, Chair; Emma Arres, Vice Chair; Asona Arres, Secretary, Junior Medina, Treasurer and Lynnae Rhodes, Member at large.
"The youth council has held numerous fundraisers to raise money to travel to various native youth leadership conferences," DeVore-Garcia said. "The youth council gives back by donating and participating in community events such as the tribal Easter picnic, Soboba trunk or treat, Soboba Halloween carnival, Tribal Christmas party, Soboba fiesta, Soboba Casino and Foundation toy drive and many more."
The council formally meets once a month to plan upcoming community events, fundraisers and conferences.
Chairwoman Autumn Vivanco is a junior at San Jacinto Valley Academy. She has been part of youth council for the past three years because she wants to be more involved in the community.
"I am most proud that we are able to give back to the youth and take them on trips and donate to the youth at special events in Soboba," said Autumn, 16. "One of the most important lessons I have learned being part of council is that not everything has to be about money and that donating anything, even our time, can make a difference."
She said one of the biggest challenges has been scheduling since during the school year youth are so busy with sports and school activities.
"I personally find being on the youth council very beneficial," Autumn said. "It gives me the opportunity to learn more about our community and encourages me to do better in school."
Vice Chairwoman Emma Arres is a senior at San Jacinto High School. She got involved three years ago because she was interested in knowing what was going on with her tribe. She has also served as secretary for two years. She is proud of the council's accomplishments of raising money to give back to the community and to be able to take many young tribal members to UNITY (United National Indian Tribal Youth) – an annual personal and professional development conference.
"I learned that coming together as one benefits the community for the reason that we all get along, we grew up with each other and later we're the ones that are going to be running the tribe," said Emma, 18.
She said one of the challenges is being available for all the events and meetings.
"Youth Council has definitely kept me in check because I have to have great time management to fit it into my busy schedule," Emma said. "You also have to be academically successful to do all the fun events that we go to, which helps me keep my grades up."
Secretary Asona Arres is an eighth-grader at North Mountain Middle School who got involved because of her sister and with encouragement from her dad.
"I'm proud that last year we reached our money goal and raised more than what we needed. We do snack bars and booths at community events (to raise money)," said Asona, 14. "I feel the most important lesson I've learned is how to take responsibility. When I get older I do plan on staying involved with the Tribal Council."
Treasurer Junior Medina is a 16-year-old junior at Noli Indian School, on the Soboba Reservation.
"I am most proud that we are able to give back to our youth and give them the opportunity to be a part of the youth council and explore different things in Indian Country," said Junior, who has been with Soboba Youth Council for about three years.
He has helped coordinate food fundraisers, family movie nights and various activities at Soboba tribal parties.
"I have learned that giving back to the community is always appreciated and that providing the other youth with these opportunities is beneficial to us all," Junior said. "I think the highlight of this all is being able to get to know the other youth in our community."
Member at Large Lynnae Rhodes is a San Jacinto High School sophomore.
"I'm proud of becoming a better role model and representing our youth and tribe," said Lynnae, 16. "What's important to me is being a more responsible person."