Our children, teenagers and young people are the most valuable resource we have. We call them Wakanyeja, a term which denotes their sacredness. I pray for the families who realize the importance of Lakota children and nurture them. I also pray for the Lakota families who are controlled by their addictions and don’t seem to care whether or not their children even have food to eat.
Regardless of how you treat your children or teenagers, they are the future of the Lakota Oyate. They will soon take our place and will be expected to lead our tribe into a better future. How they are treated by the adults in their lives will certainly determine the future of our tribe.
Today, there are many young people living on our Rez who have no guidance. The lack of guidance was recently apparent in how our young people handle fireworks. For example, fireworks are dangerous but it didn’t seem to stop many of our misguided young people on the Rez from aiming live rockets and artillery shells at one another, as well as cars and homes, throughout most of last week. What leadership skills can we expect from our young people who grow up without guidance?
Now, our young people are gathering in the nation’s capital for an historic conference. President Barack Obama was touched by the young people he visited at Standing Rock during the Cannonball Flag Day Wacipi in June 2014. As a result of his visit with those Hunkpapa Lakota teens, he launched the General Indigenous Initiative at the 2014 White House Tribal Nations Conference.
He created this initiative to focus on improving the lives of our disadvantaged youth by helping to remove the barriers which may hinder their opportunity to succeed. Through new investments and increased engagement, the initiative proposes to take a comprehensive, culturally appropriate approach to ensure all young Native people can reach their full potential.
This week, the White House is hosting the first-ever White House Tribal Youth Gathering in Washington, DC. This conference will provide Native American and Alaska Native youth from across the country an opportunity to interact directly with senior Administration officials and the White House Council on Native American Affairs. President Barack Obama is providing our young people with a once in a lifetime experience.
Several young people from Rosebud are part of a larger group from throughout Indian Country who will experience this first ever White House Tribal Youth Gathering. Nearly 1,500 young people from across Indian Country are expected in the nation’s capital to participate. The gathering will run from July 9 through 14 at the Renaissance Washington, DC Downtown Hotel. The agenda will feature several nationally known keynote speakers, more than thirty workshops, a cultural exchange night, talent show, youth dance and an awards banquet.
The group from Rosebud has a very busy itinerary. In addition to attending the White House Tribal Youth Gathering, the young people from Rosebud plan to visit the National Museum of the American Indian. They are also planning to tour Georgetown University. Their agenda also includes a side trip to Pennsylvania, where they will visit the Carlisle Indian Industrial School, a boarding school where many Native American children were sent during 1879-1918.
This trip to the nation’s capital will be the first time some of our young people have traveled such a long distance away from home. This will be an important experience for them to remember. I hope many of our young people going to this gathering will use this opportunity to speak out to government officials about their needs here at home. I encourage them to speak up to the officials they will be meeting with to convey the many areas where essential needs are currently unfulfilled. They will be speaking for all of us, including their younger siblings and extended family members.
It’s good our young people are getting some exposure as to what happens in Washington, DC. Perhaps it will motivate them to begin studying how the federal government operates now, so they can be prepared to move into positions of leadership when they are adults. It is also my hope this experience will motivate them to run for office here at the tribal level when they are adults, so they can do something different with our own government.
I pray our children will grow up into responsible adults and help to make their own Rez a better place to live.