Anthony Fleg

Service work often rewards with intangible benefits, such as meeting great people, and satisfaction in knowing that you are working for a better world. However, Emmet Yepa, a Walatowa (Jemez) Pueblo youth leader, received a very tangible reward for his service recently when he was invited to meet President Obama at the White House.

Emmet was one of eleven American Indian youth nationwide to be selected by the White House as a “Champion of Change.” Emmet was honored for his leadership work to create a recycling program in his Pueblo. New Mexico was also represented by Tiffany Calabaza from Kewa (Santo Domingo) Pueblo, who was invited for her work to convert a community windmill into a solar water pumping station to provide water for livestock and wildlife.

I am really honored to be selected, and want to learn from this so I can bring information back to our youth in New Mexico,” said Emmet as he headed to the nation’s capitol. He also credited the other founding members of the Walatowa Green Stars Recycling Group: Tianie and Lindsay Toya and Mark Panana; his family, and the Walatowa community he would be representing on his trip.

The Champions of Change ceremony took place December 1st at the White House. The eleven youth were each given a chance to speak about their work. The following day they attended the Tribal Nations Conference at the Department of the Interior, and met with President Obama privately before he spoke to the assembled leaders. “He is such an amazing, powerful and humble individual,” said Emmet.

The Tribal Nations Conference was a particularly meaningful part of Emmet’s trip. “It was a great feeling being with the leaders of the Indigenous Nations of this country. It made me see more clearly the need to advocate for Indigenous rights. I want to be a part of reclaiming the resources that are rightfully ours, such as clean water and land,” said Emmet. “It also made me think that I want to have the Green Stars get further into the process of getting a recycling center. I want to be able to say that I accomplished more than I expected for our Pueblo and for Mother Earth before I head off to college.”

 
Emmet, who would like to be a lawyer, comes from a family of potters. He is a member of the first graduating class at the Native American Community Academy in Albuquerque. He is also involved in traditional activities and music in Walatowa, pow wow drumming with the group Northern Vibe, and he serves as a coordinator for the Native Health Initiative. In that capacity, he has presented at health conferences with the Green Stars and is working to help other youth begin similar sustainability efforts using the Green Stars model.

 

Anthony Fleg is a family practice doctor and coordinator of the Albuquerque-based Native Health Initiative. 505.340.5658, afleg@salud.unm.edu