Miss Indian Arizona, Shasta Dazen with Keynote Speaker Celina Mahinalani Garza

On March 26th, 2015, the American Indian Disability Summit committee hosted the 11th Annual American Indian Disability Summit at Desert Willow Conference Center in Phoenix, AZ. Dennis Huff, Behavioral Health Director of Native Health, was the emcee for the event, which began with the singing of the National Anthem by Miss Indian Arizona, Shasta Dazen, and the Color Guard Presentation by the Salt River Young Warriors from the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community. We were blessed to have Pastor Cheryl Thomas from the Navajo Nation provide words of inspiration for the day’s events and musician Aaron White performing the Flute Song.

Phil Pangrazio, ABILITY360 President & CEO, welcomed all of the attendees, focusing on what the theme for this year’s Summit, “Gathering Native Voices to Embrace Vitality”, was all about. Befitting the theme, Phil stated, “Vitality is the power, capacity or ability of something – or someone, in your case – to continue to live, achieve, be successful or do any number of things that we would otherwise think of as moving us toward an enduring and better life. Now that is something we should all want whether we have a disability or not…don’t you think?”

We had wonderful presenters and presentations, including: Keynote Speaker Celina Mahinalani Garza, who spoke of the health of the mind, body and soul through holistic means; Marianne Tetlow on Diabetes Awareness; Janette Baranski and J. Michael Duston of Hanger Clinic – Janette spoke about peer volunteerism while Mr. Duston’s presentation was “Gait Preservation: The Key to Increased Health & Happiness”; Melanie Murray and Betty Schoen, Vocational Rehabilitation and Rehabilitation Services Administration, spoke of their agencies and the services provided to the Native population; Dr. Connie Hunt, Director of Behavioral Health from Phoenix Indian Medical Center, presented on “Integrating a Disability as an Aspect of Personal Identity”. Other presenters were Jill Sclease, Occupational Therapist, Driving to Independence; and Gabe Gerbic, Glendale & Chandler Gilbert Community Colleges, who spoke about “Fitness and Nutrition for Optimal Vitality.”

The event also features the presentation of the prestigious Marcus Harrison, Jr. Leadership Award. This award was established in his honor to acknowledge others working to keep the voice of advocacy for American Indians with disabilities alive through his/her leadership and dedication. This year’s recipient is Miss Veronica “Ronnie” James.

The event was very successful, with approximately 150 people in attendance. Thank you to everyone who attended the Summit, our generous sponsors and those who shared their stories and voices with us. We hope to make the 12th Annual American Indian Disability Summit another educational and memorable experience. Please visit our website: http://americanindiandisabilitysummit.org.

The 2015 American Indian Disability Summit small poster image.