The Mental Health of Lakota Children


Tiny Tot Dancers enjoyed themselves at the 29th Annual He Dog Wacipi. Lakota culture is important to mental health.


By Vi Waln


The 2014 National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day is on May 8th. It is up to all of us to help the children and young people in our lives enjoy mental, emotional, spiritual and physical health.

Good thoughts take effort. A safe environment will help young people to think positive.

Also, ensuring that our families have enough food to eat is very important. The Indian Reservations of South Dakota have consistently topped the list of the poorest counties to reside in for many, many years.

Yet, as Lakota we have one of the strongest support systems in the United States. Children will have a better chance of finding a meal when they are surrounded by relatives. Many of you feed several children on a daily basis. Other families also share meals with their children’s friends on weekends. Getting enough to eat is important to not only physical health – it is also important to our mental, emotional and spiritual health.

But there are other families living on our reservations who pour all of their resources into feeding their addictions to substances like alcohol or drugs, gambling or unhealthy relationships. These are the families in which the mental – as well as the physical, emotional and spiritual – health of the children is lacking. Some children have been taken from parents who cannot cope with their addictions.

There’s an active lawsuit against the Department of Social Services (DSS) for taking Lakota children away from their parents and placing them in non-Indian foster homes. I don’t believe Lakota children should grow up with non-Indian families. Sadly, until we see more Lakota people step forward to become licensed foster parents, this atrocity will continue.

More of our young people could pursue social work degrees after high school. Many of the workers at the DSS offices on our reservations commute from border towns. The handful of educated Lakota social workers we do have are overloaded with cases involving our children.

Our tribal leaders talk a lot about contracting services currently operated by federal or state agencies. Why not contract DSS? It’s awful when tribes refuse to allow the state’s highway patrol officers to come on our highways to make arrests, yet we’ve handed jurisdiction over our children to state social workers who come upon our land every day to make decisions affecting our lives. There is just something terribly wrong with that picture.

I often wonder what growing up in a wasicu home does to the mental health of a Lakota child. We all know how good the Lakota people are at ostracizing our own relatives. Many of these same children will be snubbed when they come home as adults.

It isn’t very good for an individual’s mental health to be rejected by your own people.

Kudos to sober Lakota families residing in South Dakota and working hard to provide healthy environments for their children. You have everything to do with the mental, physical, emotional and spiritual well-being of our children.

The Rez needs more like you.

Published by Vi Waln


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