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    University of Nebraska Medical Center — Wagaze: Empowering Ponca Youth Summit

    University of Nebraska Medical Center
    Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Initiatives - Silver

    The Wagaze Youth Summit was created in response to a simple request from Ponca Tribal Chairwoman Rebecca Sullivan to introduce tribal youth to health care career opportunities in a meaningful way. This novel pathway program, coordinated by the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC) in collaboration with the Ponca Tribe of Nebraska and in partnership with the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO) and Metropolitan Community College (MCC), provided extensive access to relevant educational opportunities while honoring tribal traditions and providing a sense of belonging among participants.

    What was the most impactful part of your entry?
    From Lisa Spellman: “As a Sicangu Lakota woman raised in an urban environment, I know how important it is to connect Native youth with the traditions, culture, and customs of their tribe. I’ve personally experienced, from my own father’s boarding school experience, the impact when non-Natives try to destroy those tribal traditions. I knew the most important aspect of the Wagaze Youth Summit — held June 26-29, 2022 — wouldn’t be in the overnight stays in a college dorm or in the tours of the latest technologies in health care and industrial trades but in how the youth felt when they stepped onto each of the participating campuses.

    What challenge did you overcome?
    It was challenging to convince leadership at the three participating institutions — UNMC, UNO, and MCC — how important it would be not just to incorporate aspects of Native culture into the programs each campus offered but also to include the wisdom and presence of tribal elders. Each campus had to be willing to accommodate those tribal elders by providing wheelchairs throughout the event so they could comfortably be involved. In the end, it came down to showing the tribal elders, who are the wisdom keepers and influencers among their people, they are revered and respected.

    Lisa Spellman