Student helps shed light on Native American issues

Southwest High School junior Celisa Phillips organized a speaking event at the school on Wednesday that featured the leader of Nebraska’s Ponca Tribe - and Phillips had a straightforward goal for his hour-long appearance.

“I wanted to shed light on some of the issues that Native Americans face that people don’t usually hear about,” said Phillips, who also attends the LPS Arts and Humanities Focus Program. People typically hear stories about historical events and major current events involving Native Americans, she said, but not about everyday issues.

Wednesday’s event with Larry Wright Jr., chair of the Ponca Tribe of Nebraska, accomplished that goal and more. He not only shared with students the myriad of challenges faced by today’s Native Americans - housing, healthcare, education - but also offered advice for those in the audience who want to get involved.

“Be an informed citizen. Vote and be engaged. Know what the issues are,” Wright said to the crowd gathered in the Southwest auditorium. “You can make a difference.”

Phillips had been planning the event since September. She’s a member of the school’s Family, Career and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA) chapter. Phillips has entered the event as her project to be judged at the FCCLA district competition Feb. 7 at Waverly High School. From there, she hopes to advance to the state competition held at Pinnacle Bank Arena and possibly nationals in Atlanta this summer.

“It’s really amazing what she’s done,” said Tracy Way, a Family and Consumer Science teacher at Southwest and one of the school’s FCCLA sponsors, along with fellow teacher Joan Hines.

Wright left the students with these parting words: “You are all sitting here as future leaders. Someone in here will be on a city council, or be a mayor, or in the Legislature - there’s that possibility,” he said. “One of our challenges is making sure you don’t hear about Native Americans and these issues for the first time when you’re sitting in those chairs.”

Published: February 1, 2018, Updated: February 1, 2018

“Be an informed citizen. Vote and be engaged. Know what the issues are. You can make a difference.”

Larry Wright Jr., chair of the Ponca Tribe of Nebraska