This student-led session during the recent Allegan Youth Summit focused on helping students understand how to better connect with people they had just met. (Photo by Ryan Lewis)

Youth summit ‘lives best life’ at tribe’s Hopkins Jijak camp

Ryan Lewis, Editor

The 2018 Allegan County Youth Summit on Saturday, April 21, focused on the message “Living a Good Life.”

The student-planned event sought to help energize youth from eight public school districts in the county to live alcohol- and drug-free. Between 15 and 20 students from each high school attended; at the core of each was the schools’ Pro-Youth Teams, groups of student leaders who promote the same ideals.

Allegan High School senior Delanie Nahikian said, “Today’s been really exciting,” especially because the event was at the Gun Lake Tribe’s Jijak Foundation Camp near Hopkins and involved the tribe’s youth groups. “I think that’s so important for especially high schoolers to be exposed to that.”

The conference’s T-shirts include a nod to the first-time host of the summit, with the Pottawatomie words “Mno Bmadzewen,” which translates to “living your best life.”

Delanie said the tribe’s involvement helped to counter misconceptions about Native Americans presented in textbooks or media.

“I think it’s really nice to like knock those down and really show that they’re people and have a beautiful culture,” she said.

She said it was great to see the tribal groups open the day with a “grand entrance” including traditional dance in regalia with drumming. There were also sessions on other aspects of tribal heritage, such as the system they used to settle arguments and also their traditional philosophy of the medicine wheel and how it taught keeping balance in their lives.

There were a variety of sessions throughout the day designed to build confidence, teach leadership skills and form bonds with others at the conference. Delanie led one called “How to connect.”

“It’s how to make social connections,” she said. “We started with a speed-dating-type event where the students ask more awkward, closed-off, yes-or-no questions, and gave them way too much time to answer.”

She said that was to find out if the students would try to fill the awkward moments with other questions to try to get to know each other.

“Then we discussed open versus closed questions, active listening, and how to be sociable and keep conversations going... Then we did a Bingo-type thing where we gave them much deeper questions that take a lot of conversation to explain.”

She said it connected with the day’s theme.

“You can’t live a good life without connecting,” Delanie said. “We’re social beings, we need that human fulfillment. I think that’s the biggest idea, it’s just making sure these kids know that they can make connections with people easier than they think. Everything’s going to be awkward at first.”

During the closing session, at the camp’s outdoor Powwow Arena, several students from various schools shared their personal reasons for wanting to stay substance-free.

Brenna Stratton, an Otsego High School senior, said she was staying drug-free because of her career plans.

“I plan to attend college next year and pursue a degree in science and I know I won’t be the best I can be if I choose to do drugs and party all the time,” Brenna said. “Also, I want to have a healthy family when I grow up, and I don’t want my kids to be affected by second-hand smoke.

“I’m investing in my future family and the quality of my children’s lives now by choosing not to get addicted to any drugs or alcohol.”

She also said her grandfather smoked for most of his life and died before she was born.

“He left me without a grandfather and my mother without a father for most of her life, so I want to be able to get to know my grandkids and my kids by being here and living a healthy life now,” she said. “Also I choose to be drug-free because of my faith in God.”

She believes she honors God with a healthy lifestyle, and is strengthened in her faith when she chooses to put God first.

For more information on youth substance abuse, visit

Contact Ryan Lewis at or (269) 673-5534.


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