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AIT Spotlight: Wanapheya Tolman

September 27, 2019

“This camp [All It Takes’ Legacy Leadership Summit] really helped me become more responsible and hardworking, many of my family members and friends have pointed this out. Ever since camp, my parents have trusted me to take on more responsibility than I’ve ever had. ”

Wanapheya “Pay-yah” Tolman came to the All It Takes’ Legacy Leadership Summit as a 7th grade student from Standing Rock Middle School in North Dakota. A month before camp, Wanapheya was asked to join the Standing Rock Youth Council after an article came out about Wanapheya and his family’s lifestyle change in order to pursue healthy living in a rural area.

The youth council was made up of youth in the community that the Adult Council believed could positively influence and represent their community. It was through this organization that Wanapheya was invited to attend the All It Takes Legacy Camp. He was enthusiastic about traveling to California; it would be his first time on a plane and his first time seeing the ocean, but he did not expect to experience something that would shift attitude and perspective towards life in such a positive and remarkable way.

When Wanapheya arrived in California, he was awestruck by the different environmental landscape California had to offer, but even more so by the diverse set of students from different cultural backgrounds that surrounded him at Legacy. Wanapheya was hesitant to jump headfirst into a few of the activities, but decided that while he was there he wanted to push himself to try new things before writing them off – a core ideal at AIT. His commitment to pushing his boundaries was tested when he arrived at the ropes course and instantly felt fear and doubt when he saw how high he’d be climbing. Wanapheya decided to listen to something he heard the camp director say earlier that day: “All It Takes is going one step further than you ever thought you could.”

He mustered up a few minutes of courage and decided to climb – a moment he would never forget in a lifetime. Choosing to push past the fear and find his confidence to do the seemingly un-doable. Still, when Wanapheya reached the top of the “Leap of Faith”, he froze up in fear. It wasn’t until he heard his camp group cheering him on that he found the courage to leap. A day ago, they’d all been complete strangers, but through the bonds he’d made at camp, he knew they were on his side, true cheerleaders of support and trust.

“After camp I felt more confident in what I do and I am willing to try more new things.”

Even with his newfound sense of accomplishment from his first ropes course, he was challenged to complete another course where he would have to trust and accept the help of a partner to get across a tightrope. His mentor, Alex, partnered up with Wanapheya and his fearful feelings from the first ropes course began to set in again. His mentor, sensing his hesitation, began to reassure Wanapheya that they could do this together and moments later Wanapheya was climbing and holding onto his partner in order to get to the other side of the course.

This was not the only mentor that impacted his experience, both of his group’s mentors, Stacey and Alex inspired him to be more confident in himself and to stand up for what he believes in. When he reflects on his experience at camp, he attributes much of his experience to the impact his mentors had on him and intends on having the same impact on future campers that he will get to mentor.

Wanapheya went back home with a higher sense of confidence that impacted all aspects of his life. His parents began to take notice of his change and began to trust him to take more responsibility than he had before.

“He wasn’t very confident, or a part of the ‘in’ crowd at school. He was bullied a lot because his name is in our language. Its just that middle school age where peers give each other a hard time and they really did a number with his name. It was a daily battle that we grew tired of sometimes. I really look to the Standing Rock adult leaders who extended the opportunity to join the Standing Rock Youth Council and then attended the All It Takes camp. It really did change him in a way that has blessed our family. He is so willing to try new things.” – Tipiziwin Tolman, Wanapheya’s Mother

Wanapheya is grateful for his experience at All It Takes because it has helped him prepare for his move from the reservation to Washington state. At camp, his exposure to a diverse population like in Washington prepared him to confidently interact with people from different cultures, as well as preparing him for others’ reactions and questions about his native background.

When Wanapheya came to camp he had the opportunity to go to the beach for the first time, not only was amazed to see how beautiful and vast the ocean was but it also inspired him to do whatever he can to be in the water more often. As a 9th grader, he joined the swim and cross-country team, the only indigenous student on both the teams.

He’s been awarded for his creativity as an artist and his athletic ability in both swim and cross country. After moving, he immediately got involved with his new community and volunteered to help Freshman college students move into their dormitories at Washington State University He also plans on joining the leadership class at his high school in this upcoming school year.

“We are one of the few indigenous people in the community, and whether he likes it or not, he represents our family and our people everywhere he goes. He’s doing really well with that and I’m really proud of him.” – Tipiziwin Tolman, Wanapheya’s Mother

Wanapheya attributes his experience at Legacy Camp as something that helped open him up to try new things. His mentors inspired his confidence, his ability to self-advocate, and to not give up when things get hard or scary. His goal is to continue exploring new experiences and to one day travel around the country, or maybe even the world. He’s passionate about seeing all the beautiful landscapes the world has to offer, along with all the diverse and amazing people he knows are out there waiting to be met. For now, he wants to keep volunteering for All It Takes and work on spreading his artwork throughout his community. Wherever Wanapheya travels, he wants everyone to know that he is proud to be from Standing Rock and he will carry that with him forever.

“The All It Takes camp was really the catalyst for the change and trajectory his life took. We’re really thankful. It just really was and continues to be such an impactful experience.” – Tipiziwin Tolman, Wanapheya’s Mother


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