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    Monday, March 20, 2023

    Keeping tribal youth connected to their culture

    Honey Carter poses for a photo as Little Miss Mashantucket at Pequot Day in 2013. (Submitted by Honey Carter)
    Honey Carter takes a photo with her father, Derrin Carter, at a Mashantucket Pequot Powwow festival in 2012. (Submitted by Honey Carter)

    Honey Carter is proud of who she is as a young member of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe and she wants others her age to feel the same way.

    Wanting her voice to be heard, the 16-year-old ran to be elected into the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Youth Council.

    Kaiser Leuze of the Mohegan Tribe helped form a youth council in 2017 to do the same.

    Affiliated with the United National Indian Tribal Youth, Inc., or UNITY, some of the local tribes have youth councils to promote leadership and cultural preservation among other things. Each council is different in size and maintains its own constitution or by-laws. Elected officials on the council are typically between the age of 15-24.

    Carter is in her second year on the tribe’s youth council as treasurer. She said the council sits with the tribal and elders council and advocates for youth and young voters. She is the youngest person on the council of five.

    Carter said they meet as often as twice a month, coordinate events and attend UNITY conferences. Coming up, she said they have a Youth Council Gala and a leadership training conference. Carter was selected to represent the council at this year’s White House Tribal Youth Forum on Nov. 14.

    One of Carter’s reasons for joining the council was to see more pride for their identity among her peers.

    Carter is president of the Native American Club at Norwich Free Academy where she is a junior. In her freshman year, Carter said active members of the club consisted of herself and one other person. Now there are about a dozen members. She said it was not easy getting Native American students to express themselves as natives.

    Although she has never struggled staying connected to her Native American identity, Carter said it affects her that other people have and she wants to change that.

    Carter said her upbringing in the tribe has made her “a strong Pequot woman,” and much of it has to do with being surrounded by family members. Growing up on the reservation, Carter recalls returning home after school with her cousins and making plans for the day at the bus stop. She said they’d go to the “purple park” near the community center on the reservation, play manhunt or ride four-wheelers in the woods.

    Carter was Little Miss Mashantucket from 2013 to 2014 and said she remembers dancing at powwows.

    She lives with her mother in Norwich now, but said she continues to feel attached to the reservation. She said she stays connected to her identity through her culture and being a great leader in the community, trying to do what she can for the youth.

    In July, Carter attended UNITY’s national conference in Minneapolis, Minn. where she said there were workshops not just on American Indian history but scholarship opportunities. Carter said she met other Native youth from different tribes.

    “I learned that we’re all similar in different ways no matter where we come from,” she said.

    By Mohegan youth, for Mohegan youth

    The Mohegan Youth Council was formed six years ago. The council of five is intended to encourage traditional and cultural participation among the youth of the tribe.

    Leuze, 25, was one of the founding members and was there to help make it happen. He recalled going to a regional UNITY event in Boston, getting the resources to form a youth council.

    “It seemed like a good idea to give young Mohegans a voice,” he said. “There were activities and programs for youth but nothing run by us and for us.”

    Leuze served as chairman of the youth council in 2017 and 2018 while a student at Drexel University in Philadelphia, Penn. He now works at Mohegan Sun as a financial planning analyst.

    Leuze said the first council set out to form a group that worked together. He said regardless of titles, it was a team effort planning events, fundraisers and game or movie nights.

    Leuze grew up in Salem and stayed connected to the tribe through family teachings, powwows and funeral fires. As a kid, he attended summer camps at St. Bernard's High School with other tribal youth and recalled it being a lot of fun, playing with cousins and going to field trips.

    As he got older, Leuze said he understood the importance of understanding the tribe as a sovereignty and the history it’s been through. He said the tribe has always been supportive and taught him to treat people with kindness.

    Although Leuze could have continued on the council, he said he wanted to step aside and give someone else the opportunity. He opted to serve as an advisor for the council for a year after.

    Carter said she wants to continue on the council and hopes to one day be chairwoman.


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