Over the past 15 years, I have had the opportunity to sit a talk with many young people. We talk about things that most people discuss in conversation and in time, through building a level of trust, talk of deeper things. Usually, I just listen as they dig deeper into their psyche and reveal those feelings that have caused them to abuse drugs, to self hurt themselves and to believe that they are alone. In these past years, I have heard many stories. Stories of abandonment, of violent abuse, of poverty and a sense of complete hopelessness when looking towards their future. Many are caught in a vacuum and some do not have the strength or the skills to find an escape. Where I earn my paycheck now has been and will continue to be my greatest challenge. Most of what I have done in the past years does not work here. Here, I am not only a teacher, I am also the student. Here, we all learn and some of those lessons can hurt.
Life on some of the Indian reservations is difficult at best, lethal at worst. The high rate of drug abuse and addiction is just a prelude to the highest rate of teen suicide in the nation. And chemical abuse is only a band-aid to what lays deeper. When someone reads about these conditions, they see only words written on paper, or in this case, a computer monitor. It is only when you sit next to them and not only hear their words, but see the effects those words have upon their spirit, to see the tears and to hear the voices, soft and low, does one become in tune with what is happening in their young lives.
What is the answer? There is no single answer. Only when the people come together for the community will the healing begin. There has to be a vision. One of peace, forgiveness and of spirit. Only then will the changes needed begin to blossom. And it will take strong leaders and it will also take strong spirits. The teens I see every week, many have this spirit, this warrior’s spirit and need only guidance to find the path they will walk and to recognize the battles they will need to fight. If they are anything like their ancestors, which were some of the greatest warriors that inhabited mother earth, they will succeed.