Park Rapids junior wins national essay contest

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Teresita Diaz, an 11th-grader at Park Rapids Area High School, recently won a nationwide youth essay contest about Indian agriculture.

Diaz was one of three students from PRAHS who submitted essays to the Intertribal Agriculture Council's (IAC) 2017 Youth Essay Contest, along with senior John Clark and freshman Alexis Annette.

The three traveled to Las Vegas Dec. 10-15 to attend the IAC's national conference, where Diaz was announced as one of three winners of the essay contest.

The assigned topic for each 1,000- to 1,500-word essay was "What does my community need in the Farm Bill?"

The IAC's contest flyer makes a connection between the importance of youth leadership in and the Native American community's concern about the 2018 Farm Bill.

"It's really important," said Diaz, "because they're changing a lot of stuff in the Farm Bill this year, and it's going to affect the small reservation where we live."

For her essay, Diaz wrote about ways youth can help inform people about what is happening, such as starting a youth-run YouTube channel and posting videos about how young people feel about the Farm Bill.

Points were awarded for answering the essay question, attending the IAC's Las Vegas meeting, attending a Youth Ag Leadership Summit at the University of Arkansas, and meeting the contest deadline.

"Since I got Top 3 in my essay, I had to read my essay out loud in front of all the youth and other people who were there," said Diaz. "It was a really huge room. There were a lot of people there. I was really scared."

Asked how she did, she said, "Good, I think. That's what they said. I made someone cry."

The trip was Diaz's third time attending the IAC membership meeting in Las Vegas. She said she has also attended the Arkansas youth summit three times, and went twice to a Great Lakes Region ag summit in Michigan.

It was a first trip to the Las Vegas conference for Clark and Annette. The trip was free for the students who submitted the top 50 essays and their chaperones.

"It was a Native American thing," said Diaz, "so we all did it, all three of us, and we all got it."

Both Diaz and Annette said their families do not have farms, but they've had gardens.

That may have to change a bit, in Diaz's case. Thanks to a donation from the daughter of a former IAC board member who recently passed away, each of the three contest winners will receive a horse.

"That was a surprise," Diaz laughed. "I thought it was something like on TV, where you can adopt a tiger or something, but then she was talking and I thought, 'Oh! This is real!'"

Diaz said her family doesn't yet have anywhere to house a horse, so they will probably have to board it for a while. Her family had a horse when she was little, but she doesn't personally remember it.

Her other prizes included a $500 check from the IAC, a $100 gift card, a laptop computer, an iPad Mini, a plaque and a Pendleton blanket.

"It's really a big honor to get that," said Diaz.

Diaz said students can attend IAC meetings as youth delegates throughout high school. After they graduate, they can apply to be a student leader.

"I'm not sure if I'm going to go anymore," she said.

Annette said she will probably participate in the IAC youth conference again. She said the best thing about it was "meeting all the different kinds of people."

Clark added, "You learn about the different problems all over."

For example, the group said they asked other youth delegates about the water quality on their reservation.

"We were talking about how the water on the reservation was really bad. I was asking people from other reservations if they had that problem too, and they did, so it's not just our reservation."

Diaz described her hope for the IAC youth program: "I would want everybody to be more aware of what's going on. Until we went to that conference, I didn't really know about half the issues they were talking about."

As for her personal wishes, Diaz said she hopes to work in an agriculture-related field. "I want to work with animals. I want to work outdoors," she said. "I think I want to major in biology."

She also plans to take the natural resources elective next trimester at PRAHS.