GLENDALE - Debora Norris, director of the Office of Indian Education Programs for the Arizona Department of Education, said education is strong medicine for people.
Norris served as one of the key speakers during the Native American Youth Conference at Arizona State University-West in late October.
Approximately 400 students from high schools and junior high schools from throughout the state attended the conference.
Hopi Jr./Sr. High School sent 14 high school students and about 20 junior high students to the gathering.
Norris, the first Native American woman state legislator in Arizona, urged the students to learn from each other and to appreciate their elders. She said students should use their school education and their Native education to be the best they can be.
Norris, who graduated from Stanford, has always appreciated education since both her parents were teachers. Her father taught English and her mother taught home economics.
"I had the best time of my life in college. I'm grateful that my parents gave me that vision," she said.
Norris urged the students to learn by meeting people.
As a state legislator and due to her other jobs, she has met numerous members from the more than 500 Native American tribes.
"Their cultures are rich and beautiful," she said.
Norris said she has also been fortunate to travel to Israel, Brazil, Hungary, England and Scotland.
"Jews see themselves as an ethnic tribe. Jewish people have a reservation too. It's called Israel," she said.
Norris said Jewish people make up only about five percent of the population in the U.S., yet they are among the most highly educated.
Norris urged the students to find what they are good at and use it.
Norris also told the students not to get discouraged.
"When someone discourages you, take the comments and use it," she said.
Norris said having educated communities is important.
"Communities with more education have lower crime rates, better food and better health care.
Norris was raised on the Tohono O'Odham Reservation.
She graduated from Baboquivari High School where she played basketball and threw the discus for the track team. She was active on the student council and the science club.