HOLLYWOOD — The Native Learning Center (NLC) saw record numbers at its fourth annual Summer Conference held June 5-7 at the Hollywood Hard Rock Hotel & Casino.
More than a hundred people registered for the conference representing Tribes such as Seminole, Navajo, Cherokee, Lumbee, Miccosukee and Ho-Chunk Nation, among others. NLC executive director Georgette Smith credits the record turnout to the increased quality of courses and instructors, as well as increased marketing efforts.
“To see that Tribes are coming to gain the knowledge to take back to build positive, healthy communities makes me feel so good,” she said. “It shows that the Seminole Tribe has the expertise that will go back out in Indian Country to educate others.”
The center offers free courses and training to Native Americans and Indigenous people with a focus on areas critical to the growth and improved quality of life for their communities. The focus areas include culture and language, financial wellness, grant education, housing strategies and Tribal government.
The Summer Conference offered a variety of courses that touched on these focus areas.
In developing their conference schedule, NLC curriculum development specialist Jared Forman said the center took past participants’ feedback into consideration in addition to finding classes to fit their focus areas. For example, some attendees last year noted they wanted more in-depth grant writing classes. Therefore, this time around, the center offered a 12-hour grant writing workshop over three days, as opposed to its previous three-hour course.
They did the same for the Tribal Constitutions class, which Forman said was their most popular. Twenty-nine people pre-registered for the course.
“We have a lot of curriculum that we want people to not only benefit from in their own personal lives but also to bring back to their communities to help benefit their Tribes as a whole,” he said.
NLC marketing coordinator Christina Gonzalez said the conference was their strongest to date. She said that, in addition to offering popular courses, hosting the conference on the reservation helped bring more attendees. She also credited the hard work of the NLC team.
“Our team as a whole has become stronger,” she said. “We continue growing. We continue learning.”
Executive director Smith said the center has gained a considerable amount of exposure across Indian Country, mainly through word of mouth from satisfied participants.
“I see a lot of attendees that have been with us the past three years who are very loyal supporters of the Native Learning Center,” she said. “Word of mouth seems to work best with Indian Country.”
For attendee Norma Locklear of the Lumbee Tribe in Pembroke, N.C., the conference appealed to her because of the interesting workshops. She said she enjoyed both the I Ain’t Got No Accent and the History and Success of Boys & Girls Clubs in Indian Country courses.
The I Ain’t Got No Accent course, taught by Mark Ford of Chiricahua Apache descent, demonstrated the issues that surface from interactions with people from other cultures and the best practices in overcoming obstacles and cultural misunderstandings. It addressed the issues of how to express and understand verbal, para-verbal and non-verbal modes of communications.
The History and Success of Boys & Girls Clubs in Indian Country, taught by Ron Gurley of the Cherokee Nation, focused on how partnering with the Boys & Girls Club helps at-risk children grow, learn, develop and change their lives and surroundings.
Locklear said she benefited from both courses because she works in her Tribe’s Culture Department and her Tribe has five Boys & Girls Clubs on the reservation.
“They have really good workshops,” she said. “I learned a lot.”
The three-day conference also showcased vendors’ and exhibitors’ traditional apparel and beaded, shell and turquoise jewelry from around Indian Country, as well as Seminole arts and crafts.
In keeping with the Hard Rock theme, the Osceola Brothers Band rocked out the conference with a special performance on June 6. Smith said the NLC promotes healthy communities, and the boys are a prime example of the success that comes with being surrounded by positive role models. The boys – Cameron, 15; Tyson, 13; and Sheldon, 10 – are hard-working honor students in addition to talented musicians who write their own music.
Smith felt extremely satisfied with the turnout and success of the conference and thanked the Council and Board for their support.
“The support from the Tribal government has been great,” she said. “I’m really pleased with the support of the Tribe for what we do. It helps us reach out to all of Indian Country.”