The challenge facing youth in Native Reservations:

The focus of this proposal is on the youth of Native American Reservations. There is a great need for our project’s ability to provide life changing experience for character growth and skills instruction to actively counter destructive trends now taking place among our youth. Sadly, 74% of youth in custody in the Federal Bureau of Prisons system are now Native American youth, an increase of 50% over a period of eight years. At midyear 2000, Native American youth accounted for nearly 16% of inmates in custody in Indian country facilities. Alcohol-related deaths among Native Americans ages 15-24 are 17 times higher than the national averages, and the suicide rate for Native American youth is at three times the national average.

With a median age hovering just above 18 years, the young are a steadily expanding proportion of Native America, representing approximately 45% of the total Native American population in the State of South Dakota, wherein fully 100,000 Native Americans reside primarily on nine Native American Reservations primarily located in isolated rural areas. On these reservations, Native Americans reside primarily in government constructed rental cluster-site housing communities, wherein poverty has been endured since time of their community’s establishment in the late 1880s following the conquest of the Dakota/Nakota/ Lakota tribes not only by the United States military forces but also by various Christian denominations evangelizing the Native populations.

Prior to their period of conquest, the First Nations had great respect and harmony with the environment. Their ecological relationship with their mother, the Earth, was intimate and mutually self-sustaining. The First Peoples had mutual inter-dependence within the balance of nature. The first nations at that time were healthy not only physically, but more so spiritually and emotionally.

The first nations acknowledged that we are all related and within this concept is the meaning of helping, supporting and depending upon one another. At that time, only one law existed, and that is the law of kinship, the rights, duties and responsibilities of kinship relations, and the state of spirituality, which ensued in taking care of one another in a respectful manner at all times.

The subjugation of the First Peoples who lived in a civilized manner was highly oppressive. Alien concepts of individualism greater than the common good of one’s entire extended family were harshly enforced for over 125 years and found expression in the schools, stores, and governmental agencies established to assure that the oppression would be applied relentlessly in the Native American communities in South Dakota. The language of the First Peoples was outlawed. Yet although their religious ways, ceremonies, and Sacred rites had been prohibited, and their traditional and cultural way of living had been banished, the traditional Native population in effect went underground to sustain their language, religious practices, and cultural values. The traditional elders held firm and were unshakable in their conviction regarding their linguistic, religious, and cultural patrimony.

The introduction of alcohol and other chemical substances in the Native communities provided instant relief for multi-generational symptoms of anger, oppression, and a grieving process which never has been resolved. At the dawn of the 21st century we are faced with a new onslaught through the near total immersion in the technologies of consumerist television, violent video games, music and web exposure. Such common mass media purveying “gangster culture” have begun to influence the local Native communities, and in particular the youth of these communities, in very traumatic ways.

Members of the community may now easily forget who they were and where they came from, becoming more readily dependent on government issued commodities and food stamps to procure quick fix meals with high concentrations of fats, starch, and sugar. A once completely self-sufficient people have now become more consumer-orientated and unhealthful dependent.

Alcoholism is now three times the national norm, while levels of heart disease, renal failure, and previously rare cancers continue their strong upward trends.

The goal of our program is to bring such profoundly negative health statistics back in line with the national norms of community health. While the scope of sickness and disease within the Native community has grown to an awesome scale, it is unfortunately also apparent that many people are dying or contributing to the death of the inner spirit of one other; physically, spiritually and emotionally.

While many in the community would proclaim that our youth are the future and the answer, few if any are committed to do something about making it possible to work toward realizing this dream- to making it happen. The range of educational services in the Native community include State/federal funded public schools, Tribal charter schools, private schools, federally funded day care centers and pre-school Head Start Centers. Yet despite such school services, the issues of juvenile offences, delinquency, family disorders in the homes of the youth supported by a consistent pattern of alcohol/drug abuse remain prevalent in the Indian community.

As referenced above, the 74% of youth in Federal Bureau of Prisons system custody represents an increase of 50% over a period of eight years. Locally these concerns are being tracked as follows, for example. On October 17, 2006, the Tribal council of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate issued its approved “Community Justice and Rehabilitation Center Master Plan,” and described the rate of Native juvenile incarceration herein:“… information about all of the juveniles who were booked at the Detention Facility from December 30, 1995 to May 22, 2004; there were a total of 749 juveniles, who accounted for 1,803 bookings (2.04 bookings per juvenile), and were charged with 3,038 charges (4.06 charges per juvenile). 472 of these juveniles (63%) could have moved into the adult (detention) system by the end of 2004, their 18th birthday is estimated by that time. 179 of them (29%) had already done so.

They had more bookings in the juvenile system than the group of juveniles as a whole (an average of 3.77 bookings per juvenile and significantly more charges (an average of 6.7). This group of juveniles who moved into the adult (jail) system: accounted for 21% (277) of the bookings in the adult system in 2003 and 2004, – accounted for 24% (581) of the charges in the adult system in 2003 and 2004; and, were 19% of the adults held at the jail during those two years. A review of the 210 youth who were booked more than three times by representatives of the Child Protection Program and Little Voices (youth group home) revealed that all of the juveniles in this group (and their family) had been involved with their program (but to no avail). Thirty (15%) of these youth had been placed in their facility for anywhere from a brief to a long-term stay. Fortyseven (22%) were struggling in school at the present time. It seems clear that this population of youth who are at high risk of moving into the adult (jail) system also have a significant impact on other social agencies in the community.”

This is the specific scenario currently afflicting the Native community throughout the nine reservations in South Dakota. Proposed solutions have been many and extensive, yet successes are few and limited. It is against this backdrop that this initiative has been developed and is herein proposed.