By Nashel’ Bebeau, Young Women’s Cabinet member

“Aaniin Anishinabe doog. Nashel’ Bebeau nindishinikaanigoo
Awasasee nindoodem. Gaazaga skwaa ji me kaag nindoonjiba. Baaga ‘ ado waganing nindaa.

Hello. My name is Nashel’ Bebeau. I belong to the clan Bull Head. I am a proud member of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe.

I live in Ball Club, Minnesota. As a leader of the Young Women’s Initiative of Minnesota, I represent the voices of 800 young women of color, including Native women.

Too often, we are told to be resilient. My leadership demands we build resilient systems for girls like us to thrive.”

~ Remarks by Nashel’ Bebeau, introducing the Young Women’s Initiative of Minnesota onstage at the United State of Women Summit (May 5, 2018)

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On May 5 and 6, I participated in a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to attend The United State of Women Summit in Los Angeles. For me, this was a huge step. Living on the reservation and in northern Minnesota, we don’t get the chance to experience opportunities like this. I’m so grateful to be a part of the Young Women’s Initiative of Minnesota (YWI MN) and all the opportunities it provides, like this one, thanks to the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota.

On Friday night, I worked on the speech I would be giving on the main stage before an audience of 5,000. I was nervous! I practiced with the other Young Women’s Cabinet members, including Katelyn Vue, Kathy Santamaria-Mendez, Mys Helen Martin, and Raie Gessesse, who were really encouraging. On Saturday when I met girls from the seven other Young Women’s Initiatives, I felt so motivated and couldn’t wait to get on the stage and speak.

National Young Women's Initiatives on stageSummit, Day One

At 7 a.m., we were in line waiting for the doors to open and I was so anxious to get inside! As we walked into the auditorium and to our front row seats, I felt a feeling I can’t describe. Being surrounded by thousands of other young women leaders who share the same goals and mindset is so awesome. It’s a feeling everyone should feel.

After the morning main session, which was so motivating, I attended the “Women of Color Leading the Resistance” breakout session. There, I was inspired to hear: “Women of color from all backgrounds have once again stepped forward to carry the torch and light the path.” After the session was over, I got to meet with Chrissie Castro, vice-chair of the Los Angeles City-County Native American Indian Commission. Since the Summit, we have exchanged a few emails to stay connected.

Nashel and Jamie

Whenever I travel, I always want to try something new. This trip: Korean BBQ. The lines were long, but that was alright because I met Jamie (photo, right). We connected instantly on so many different topics, ate lunch together, and swapped information to stay in touch.

My second breakout session was “Answering the Call: Public Service in Today’s World,” featuring a panel that included Minneapolis City Councilor Andrea Jenkins and Minnesota State Representative Ilhan Omar. My favorite moment was when Rep. Omar, talking about running for office, said, “Spend a lot of time appreciating what’s in front of you, rather than what’s not.”

Young Women’s Initiatives at Center Stage

At 3:30 p.m., we’re all waiting backstage — me and seven other young women representative of YWIs across the country — trying hard not to be nervous. This was going to be our big moment to show everyone how our Young Women’s Initiatives are changing lives of young women in our states, cities, and across the country.

Andrea Jenkins Ilhan Omar Raie G Katherine S

Minnesota State Representative Ilhan Omar, Minneapolis City Councilor Andrea Jenkins, Young Women’s Cabinet members Katelyn Vue and Raie Gessesse

It’s time. We walk onto the stage and I proceed to the podium to deliver opening remarks on behalf of Minnesota. Talking on the main stage was a feeling I never want to forget. Speaking in front of thousands can seem terrifying, but it was so motivating! Hearing everyone clapping and cheering really reassured me that when you are speaking, you have thousands of women behind you. You are never alone. No matter where you are, you have the support of thousands of women from all over the United States.

At the end of the afternoon was the moment we were all waiting for:  former First Lady Michelle Obama! Her session was the highlight of the afternoon. (Watch the video of Michelle Obama and actress Tracee Ellis Ross in conversation. It’s terrific!)

Summit, Day Two

On the second and final day of the Summit, our Young Women’s Cabinet had the chance to meet with seven other Young Women’s Initiatives participating in the National Collaborative of Young Women’s Initiatives.

Nevada and Nashel

Nevada Littlewolf, executive director of Tiwahe Foundation and Women’s Foundation of Minnesota Trustee, with Nashel’ Bebeau

One of my favorite things about YWI? Minnesota has the only statewide Young Women’s Initiative. This is especially important to me, because if our YWI wasn’t statewide, the community I represent as a Native American woman from Greater Minnesota would not be included, and I would not be a part of the Young Women’s Cabinet.

Hearing about the work of other YWIs at the Summit made me really want to do even more. Minnesota was the only initiative at the Summit that included a Native American representative.

Being the only Native American in the room really motivated me to come back home and push our young Native American women leaders to show up, speak up, and lead our communities, reservations, and state to be all that we need it to be to truly serve young women like me, now and for future generations.

This is how we #ChangeCulture.

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