Journey Zephier is not your average teenager.
Although the 15-year-old Kapaa resident describes himself as “shy and quiet,” beneath his calm demeanor and serious face is a young man on a mission.
Journey was invited to attend the inaugural White House Tribal Youth Gathering in Washington D.C. July 8-9 and was honored as a Native Youth Leader and named a National Gen-I Native Youth Ambassador.
“I feel it is our generation’s responsibility to stand up and do something, we are the ones we have been waiting for, we need to speak up, because we are the ones that will have to deal with the environmental crisis,” the Kanuikapono student said. “Bad decisions made today, will impact our generation more than they will impact the adults making those decisions now.”
The event was hosted by the White House, Unity Inc. and the Center For Native American Youth as part of President Obama’s Gen-I (Generation Indigenous) Initiative. It gave native youth leaders the opportunity to interact and talk with senior White House administration officials about issues that concern them.
Journey met first lady Michelle Obama and attended a workshop session on Native Sovereignty and panels on environment, health and energy.
He spoke with White House senior administration officials and lawmakers on key issues that matter to Native Youth like the environment and climate change, sovereignty, the Keystone XL violating Lakota treaties and protecting sacred sites like Mauna Kea.
“I also talked about pesticide exposure in rural native communities, especially here in Kauai, being a big concern for me,” he said.
Journey was invited to attend the gathering for his work as a Native Youth Leader. Journey is one of 18 youth from around the world who is on the RYSE Global Youth Council. The youth council works together with advisory elders, to develop actions and solutions for environmental and human rights issues.
Journey is also the founder of Earth 7.0, a grassroots organization to help educate youth on how to get involved in the legislative process, and he is the youth director of Earth Guardians, Kauai, an environmental organization for youth.
Journey hopes he inspired other youth to get involved in making their voices heard.
“One of the projects I’m working on is the Kauai Native Youth Council, bringing together young people on Kauai to find solutions for problems we see around us,” Journey said.
Journey is a 10th grader at Kanuikapono Public Charter School and feels that culture is a core of inspiration and strength for him. He is a member of the Yankton Sioux Tribe, Lakota/Dakota, with a strong sense of cultural identity, and has spent much of his youth attending Kanuikapono Hawaiian Immersion Charter school.
“I am really lucky, because I have the blessing of two cultures,” he said. “I am proud of my culture, family and ancestors. I have also been raised with the aloha of Hawaiian culture, so these two cultures shape me.”
While in Washington, D.C., Journey also toured the Capitol courtesy of Hawaii Sen. Brian Schatz’s office, watched a debate in the Senate gallery, toured the White House, visited the Native American Smithsonian and the USDA.
“It was incredible because he’s a very serious young man. He takes his work very seriously,” his mother, Erika Schneider told The Garden Island about the trip, where the young student was mesmerized by a Senate floor speech. “I couldn’t get him out of the Senate. I was ready to go after 15 minutes and he was like, ‘No, no.’”
What’s his message to other youth?
“Don’t be afraid to speak up on important issues, to get involved. I know it’s scary, I struggle with speaking in public, because I’m shy, but even if my voice shakes, I speak up, and you can too,” he said.