For our urban Native children the ways in which they are able to practice and learn their traditions are different from those that grow up on or near a reservation with the knowledge that many of their tribe’s elders hold. There are many children that have never been to the reservations of their ancestors. There is the boarding school generation that may have been stripped of their culture and traditional practices. Who is there for our children to turn to? Who do they go to for guidance and understanding of who they are as individuals and as a Native Americans?
There once was a time when ceremonies marked the stages of life that our relatives were in. These ceremonies taught and enabled our children to grow and learn about their duties and responsibilities as members of their family, tribe and community.
These teachings have been lost for some time and have left generation upon generation wondering mother earth with no knowledge of what it is that they should be doing; from raising our young, to practicing their culture, and to taking care of the elders.
Now you see our elders suffering, in pain from the hurt that they carry for their families. Our elders are raising numerous grandchildren and great grandchildren with most of it due to lack of parental involvement. Much of this separation is the direct results of substance abuse, incarceration, and/or death which many times are associated with one of these issues.
For our Native American people the greatest protective factor that they can have is their culture. The ability to know who you are as an individual and where you fit into this world is a way to stay on the right path. When we bring the ceremonies and cultural knowledge into these children’s lives they have a purpose and sense of belonging.
The past week I was able to go along with my oldest niece to be a part of a ceremony for young ladies that are going into the next stages of their lives. Not knowing what to expect or what was going to take place I think I was just as nervous as the girls. It was a four day camp with the ceremony being on the fourth day.
The amount of growth and determination that I saw in those girls in four days was amazing. To see the transformation of them walking into that camp with their heads down and looking scared, to them identifying who they were as Native young ladies and to have guidance on what now will be expected from them going forward was memorable to say the least. To stand behind them that last day and see the pride and confidence that they walked with and the passion that they had exhilarated was a proud moment.
The way that these young women had grown to accept each other’s imperfections and work together as a team was inspirational. The little girls that walked into that camp the first day were not the ones that walked out of that camp on the fourth day. Realizing that so much transformation was possible in such a short time frame, it left me wondering if our youth had these teachings, guidance and attention from birth to adulthood would our people be facing the issues that we face at alarming rates.
How do we expect our Native children, youth, and community members to succeed in a world that many people do not even believe that Native Americans still exist? In a world that our people are mocked, made fun of in the public, dressed up as on Halloween and it is accepted? In a world that allows our children to be placed in non-native homes, where the children are deprived, like the generations that came before them, of their culture? When do we take a stand and give our children the lives that they deserve a life full of cultural knowledge, protective factors, and coping skills? We are the ones responsible for the growth that they go through. When they are learning about math equations and science formulas, let’s make sure that we are also teaching them who they are as Natives.by