Jai Steadman watches his team at a regular season home game on February 16, 2011 against the Austin Toros at State Farm Arena in Hidalgo, Texas.

Native American Youth Summit Teaches Initiative

Sam Laskaris
7/27/11

Pro basketball coach Jai Steadman will be hosting a rather unique leadership summit for Native American youth in Nebraska this September.

Sixteen teenagers, who represent the four federally recognized tribes in the state, will take part in the Sovereign Native Youth Project September 2 to 4 in the City of Lincoln.

The event will be held at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

The summit will feature four participants, aged 16 to 18, from each of the tribes: Ponca, Omaha, Santee Sioux and Winnebago.

A federal grant will cover the costs of the summit, run by Steadman, an assistant coach with the Texas-based Rio Grande Valley Vipers. The club is an affiliate of the National Basketball Association's Houston Rockets. The Vipers compete in the NBA's Development League, better known as the D-League.

For Steadman, 40, this summit is one of the ways he is reconnecting with his tribal roots. Though he knew he was adopted at birth, he only found out two years ago his biological mother was Ponca.

Since then he has operated a pair of basketball camps for Native youth. The September summit will emphasis four key elements: taking initiative, remaining accountable, making cultural connections and becoming a leader.

"I really wanted it to be college driven," Steadman said. "I want to give them an opportunity and hope and just a chance to see the university."

Various methods will be used to emphasize the camp themes.

"We're going to get them to think about the future, the present and the past," Steadman said.

For example, to get them to think about their cultural pasts, summit attendees will be given a talk about the history of corn and its relevance to Native American culture as it was an original crop planted by Native people in the state.

Each participant will also be given some seeds and instructed to take those back to their communities and grow corn. This project will show initiative and accountability as the teens will be responsible for growing the corn.

Summit participants will also make taped video recordings of each other on how they plan to help their communities and the steps they will take to make these goals become reality. Though Steadman said he has some ideas on future projects, he'd prefer the teens brainstorm and come up with their own concepts.

While at the summit, they'll also make new Facebook pages and Twitter accounts.

They'll be asked to provide frequent updates to Steadman about how they are incorporating what they learned at the event and how they are assisting their communities.

"I want weekly updates on their projects," Steadman said.

Camp attendees will also be taken to a university football match on September 3, between the host Nebraska Cornhuskers, traditionally a powerhouse team, and the Chattanooga Mocs from the University of Tennessee.

"Some of them have never been to a Nebraska football game before," Steadman said.

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