Some SD Native American youth get a helping hand from peers
Tuesday, November 14, 2023
November is Native American Heritage Month, and a South Dakota organization is working to help establish leadership skills for Indigenous youth.
Data compiled by the Center for Native American Youth show young people within this population face many obstacles, from high school graduation rates below the national average to being over represented in foster care.
John Richard, youth and family specialist with the Thunder Valley Community Development Corporation on the Pine Ridge Reservation, said it underscores how Indigenous youth are still reeling from trauma experienced by past generations, and added their programs focus on providing structure and healing.
"Really, what we want to do is fill in those roles, in how to express yourself in healthy ways, and also being able to have a support system and that kind of structure, where it's going to guide them and flourish into their future lives," he said.
Richard added on the Pine Ridge Reservation, there are few resources for prevention and awareness for behavioral health. Among Thunder Valley's youth outreach programs is an initiative where elementary-age children are connected with high schoolers. Those mentorships emphasize improving self-identify through sports and learning more about the Lakota language.
There's also the WWHY Girl Society program, which prepares girls for life challenges and traditional Lakota womanhood ceremonies.
Lynn Cuny, Thunder Valley's deputy director, adds it serves as a safe space, as Pine Ridge continues to deal with high rates of missing and murdered Indigenous relatives.
"It's overwhelming for us as adults, so imagine being a youth, feeling that and seeing that every day. So, we've even done self-defense classes with our young Girl Society," she said.
Thunder Valley leaders say staffing shortages and transportation barriers sometimes prevent them from expanding certain programs, like a summer leadership academy. However, being able to bring in teens and young adults as mentors has allowed elements of their outreach work to thrive.
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