Imagine going to a school with no electricity, or not having running water in your home. What if a lot of the adults in your neighborhood were unemployed and took to alcoholism to forget their troubles? How would you feel if your family's religious traditions were being forgotten, or were looked down upon by mainstream society? Have you ever known what it is like to not have access to healthy food?
Unfortunately these are some of the issues that face Native American youth today. The incidence of suicide among Native American young people, ages 15-24, is nearly three times that of the U.S. national rate (Indian and Alaskan Native rate is 37.5 per 100,000 vs. 13.2 per 100,000 U. S. all races according to the Indian Health Service Trends 1989-91). Fortunately though, people like Nick's friend Katsi are working to change such awful trends.
The organization Katsi works with, Running Strong for American Indian Youth, has a number of programs designed to help improve the standard of living for Native Americans. In addition to helping Native Americans with their basic needs; like food, water and shelter; Running Strong also creates opportunities for self-sufficiency and improved self-esteem, particularly for tribal youth. Programs include building wells to provide safe drinking water on reservations, developing organic gardens in reservations so Native Americans can grow their own food, fixing houses and buildings in poor condition, providing needed heat to reservations during the cold winters, and Katsi Cook's midwifery project to help provide safe and traditional support to pregnant Native American women.
Just as Teddy found out while visiting the Makah people, traditional languages of many Native American tribes have been passed down orally and are now in serious threat of being lost or forgotten forever. If these languages are lost, the stories and histories of these tribes will also be forgotten, which seriously threatens the culture itself. Unfortunately over 71% of the Native American languages that still exist today exist only in the tribe elders. When these elders die, what will become of the language?
Running Strong is actively involved in helping several grassroots organizations that are aimed at providing language and cultural education and training. The aim of projects like these is to help save and share Native American culture for future generations. As their name implies Running Strong for American Indian Youth has a large focus on youth. As their website explains, they are "motivated by the need to create a new generation of Indian leaders who demonstrate healthy lifestyles and pride in their heritage." But as we've discussed earlier, Native American youth often grow up in environments filled with challenges like substance abuse and high suicide and school dropout rates. These challenges make it hard to give youth the confidence they need to become leaders in their own lives and in their communities.
Running Strong is working across the nation with local organizations to provide educational support, recreational and athletic activities, "Spirit" camps, counseling, after school care, and suicide support hotlines to create positive alternatives for Native American youth - tomorrow's leaders. Would you like to join Katsi Cook and others all over America that are working to improve the lives of Native American youth? Here are some simple ways you can help Running Strong in their mission: Collect Campbell's soup labels and other proofs of purchase from Campbell's products for the Billy Mills Youth Center. The Billy Mills Youth Center is a new facility built in conjunction with the Cheyenne River Youth Project to create a safe space for children. As a participant in the Campbell's Label for Education TM program, the Billy Mills Youth Center is able to exchange these Labels for free educational and athletic equipment for kids on the Cheyenne River Sioux Indian Reservation.
Please send your labels (only the front portion) to:
Another very fulfilling way you can help out is to become a Landmark Volunteer. Landmark Volunteers Program is a nonprofit summer service organization for high school students. If you are fourteen and a half years of age or older, entering 10th, 11th or 12th grade and are looking for an opportunity to do something for others, to expand your world through community service, to give something back to society, you might qualify as a Landmark Volunteer.
Running Strong for American Indian Youth hosts a summer volunteer camp on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation for Landmark Volunteers. For two weeks the volunteers help renovate homes and work in organic gardens, while learning about Native American culture and history. They live in tipis and often get the opportunity to observe or participate in various native customs such as sweatlodges, powwows, sundances, and traditional food. How cool!
Landmark Volunteers also hosts a two week camp in the beautiful Chaco Canyon that Daphne visited where the amazing Anasazi Indian ruins are. Positions for these camps are limited so visit Landmark Volunteer's website to find out more: www.volunteers.com.
Hopefully with programs like these, we can move forward into a future where all youth, including Native American youth, can grow up understanding and appreciating the rich cultures and histories of this land, and work together to create a bright future for tomorrow.
Daphne - The mysterious ways of the secretive