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Special Representative Desirée Cormier Smith poses for a photo with the six IYLC participants. [State Department photo]

Youth leadership is a catalyst for innovation and social progress.  This guiding tenet led to our groundbreaking establishment of the Indigenous Youth Leadership Coalition (IYLC).  The IYLC is a State Department funded-initiative, created by the U.S. Special Representative for Racial Equity and Justice (SRREJ) to elevate Indigenous youth leaders from around the world and incorporate their invaluable perspectives into global civic and political engagement efforts.  It is dedicated to addressing the unique challenges and opportunities faced by Indigenous youth and their communities more broadly. 

To launch the IYLC, we hosted six inspiring Indigenous youth leaders from the Western Hemisphere.  These young changemakers joined us in Washington, D.C. from November 6-9 to participate in the White House Tribal Youth Forum.  Their participation was instrumental in promoting international Indigenous voices and highlighting challenges to Indigenous communities that know no borders, such as preserving Indigenous knowledge and languages, climate resilience, and health. 

Senior Advisor for Indigenous Issues, Michael Orona and the IYLC participants pose for a photo at the White House Tribal Youth Forum.
Senior Advisor for Indigenous Issues Michael Orona, and the IYLC participants at the White House Tribal Youth Forum. [State Department photo]

The White House Tribal Youth Forum provided a platform for the IYLC participants to engage with and learn from their Native American peers, gain practical experience, and develop institutional knowledge by collaborating with Native American youth, as well as U.S. government senior officials.  During their stay in Washington, D.C, they also met with representatives from the Department of State and various civil society organizations dedicated to addressing the marginalization of Indigenous peoples. 

The IYLC participants participate in a strategy session at the U.S. Institute of Peace.
The IYLC participants participate in a strategy session at the U.S. Institute of Peace. [State Department photo]

The IYLC participants had diverse backgrounds, each bringing their unique perspectives and experiences to the table.  The participants included:

  • Maricelma Francelino Fialho Cândido – Brazil: Maricelma is an Indigenous Terena woman from the Pantanal region, the world’s largest wetlands.  She is a biomedical professional specializing in infectious diseases with a focus on neglected rural Indigenous communities and a master’s student at the Federal University of Mato Grosso do Sul.  She is also a treasurer at the Intercultural Terena Education Institute and part of Mission Brazil’s Access E2C program. 
  • Daisy Lahache – Canada: Born and raised on Kahnawake Mohawk Reserve in Quebec, Daisy is an artist, model, and the founder of the Healing Arts Project.  Her art, including beadwork, mixed media, and sculpture, champion Mohawk arts and culture.  She actively participates in Kahnawake’s youth governance and was invited to the Iroquois Confederacy Caucus.  She is a passionate advocate for Indigenous representation and inclusion, proudly embracing her Mohawk heritage as a voice for youth and artists. 
  • Noamby Lucas-Castillo – Colombia: Noamby is an Indigenous Zenú person from the Cabildo Menor of Tuchín-Urbano in Córdoba, Colombia.  She is the first Zenú Indigenous person to attend and graduate from the University of Los Andes with a degree in law.  She currently serves as a Judicial Assistant at the Tribunal for Peace in the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP), a legal advisor for the rights of Indigenous women facing gender-based violence, and a volunteer with the Court of Justice of the Zenú People.  
  • Edna Marly Figueroa Cuc – Guatemala: Edna is a Q’eqchi’ Indigenous sociolinguist and translator from the Guatemalan department of Cobán and the current Indigenous Queen of Abya Yala (America).  She is the founder of the digital project on Facebook “Let’s Learn Q’eqchi’ with Edna.”  Edna teaches the Q’eqchi’ language at JovenGo, a Central American youth organization working with isolated youth.  She currently creates digital literacy materials in Mayan languages at the New Sun Road Guatemala School and empowers Indigenous women through technology. 
  • Silvia Alejandra Miranda Loredo – Honduras: Silvia is a law school student at the National Autonomous University of Honduras and a paralegal.  She is a Study of U.S. Institutes Alumni, Generation Change Fellow at the United States Institute of Peace, and a trainer at the Generation Change Fellows Program in Guatemala.  As a founder of the Women with Power Foundation, Silvia has made significant contributions to women empowerment, education, and peacebuilding in Honduras.  Her dedication to law, love for languages, leadership, and mission to serve others has made her an asset to empower others in her Garifuna ethnic community. 
  • Josefina Bautista Peña – Mexico: Josefina is an Indigenous woman from Zacapoaxtla.  She is both a native Náhuatl speaker and speaks and writes in Totonac.  She was a reporter for the communal radio program “Tsinaka” and returned to her former high school to teach Indigenous and Náhuatl philosophy and became a part of the Academic Directive Council.  Through her service, she strengthens educational programs from a Náhuatl community perspective and empowers girls and women

Desirée Cormier Smith serves as the Department’s first Special Representative for Racial Equity and Justice (SRREJ).  Her office leads our efforts to advance racial equity and justice for members of marginalized racial, ethnic and Indigenous communities around the world.  The inaugural IYLC cohort shares many of our policy goals, which include combating structural racism, promoting human rights, democracy, economic equality, addressing climate change, and strengthening peace and stability.  We are committed to promoting the human rights of Indigenous peoples and integrating a focus on Indigenous issues and racial equity and justice globally.

Together, we can foster a more inclusive global society where Indigenous peoples achieve their aspirations and contribute their expertise to shape a safer, healthier, more inclusive, and more sustainable world for all. 

Senior Advisor for Indigenous Issues Michael Orona, U.S. Embassy staff, and the IYLC participants tour the U.S. Capitol. The pose for a photo in front of a statue and columns.
Senior Advisor for Indigenous Issues Michael Orona, U.S. Embassy staff, and the IYLC participants tour the U.S. Capitol. [State Department photo]

About the Author: Mikayla Tillery is a Virtual Student Federal Service Intern at the Office of the Special Representative for Racial Equity and Justice and attends Stanford University. 

U.S. Department of State

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