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Two Sharks, a Warrior and a Viking— representing American Samoa at Native Youth Community Congress

Four representatives from different high schools in the territory left on Wednesday for the upcoming Native Youth Community Adaptation and Leadership Congress that will be held in the state of West Virginia in the upcoming week. It is to be hosted in Sherpherdstown, at the National Conservation Training Center (NCTC). The Congress is a week-long student environmental conference for approximately 100 Native American, Alaskan Native, and Pacific Islander high school students interested in environmental issues, natural resource conservation, community leadership, and public service.

The four students are: Zemirah Pati, who is a recent graduate of Samoana High School, Pauline Vaivao, a Senior from Samoana High School, Tiara So’otaga, a Senior out of Faga’itua High School, and Joshua Galea’i from Tafuna High School. Leading them on this trip is their mentor from Samoana High School, Sabrina Suluai-Mahuka.

The event is sponsored by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service, U.S. Geological Survey, Environmental Protection Agency, Bureau of Land Management, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and other federal partners.

Suluai-Mahuka told Samoa News that this is the third year that this congress has taken place – but this is the first time that American Samoa has been invited. She said the selected students applied for the chance to participate. ‘They had a resume application that they had to upload which included two essay questions, expounding on at least three environmental concerns and how they would be able to tackle these concerns, or any effort that they would put in to solve these problems.”

According to the NYCALC website: The goal is to foster an inclusive, meaningful, educational event for aspiring Native youth leaders interested in addressing environmental issues facing Native American, Alaskan Native, and Pacific Islander communities. It will also allow for networking across the larger group of like-minded youth on issues related to environmental change and natural resource conservation in their home communities.

It’s a chance to identify key environmental issues facing Native youth and their communities — involvement inspires change, the website says. An “opportunity to learn and demonstrate leadership and communication skills by engaging with peers across different communities about environmental change.

It says grant funding will be available after the Congress for conservation-related student projects in their own communities.

According to Suluai-Mahuka, the four selected representatives from the territory will share their environmental concerns on behalf of the entire island, and the purpose of the congress is for “the students to gather and communicate their concerns with each other about their communities since we’re all from different parts of the United States – and the indigenous tribes are also going to elaborate on their concerns so they’ll receive and exchange ideas so that we’re all aware of whats going on.”

She continued, “…the congress will last for about one week… there will be a total of 111 students, mostly from indigenous tribes in the US, Hawai’i, and Alaska, in addition to American Samoa.”

Suluai-Mahuka wanted to send out her acknowledgements to those who’ve made this trip possible for them — “A special thank you to the parents of my students because we’ve been coordinating this for the past three months and we’ve had a lot of practices and getting the kids together for meetings.”

She concluded “A special thank you to the Department of Marine Wildlife Resources, the National Park Services, and the Tau’ese Ocean Center for giving us all the information that we needed, in order to present at this congress.”