Voices of Native Youth

Hoping for a Future without Poverty on the Reservation

Native youth perpetuate the negative beliefs of living on the reservation and maintain its stagnant poverty. Native youth grow up witnessing the poverty and are conditioned into this hopeless belief. Because they have no faith in a better future, it is impossible for an effective reform for change. I believe Native youth should be the driving force behind reformation on the reservation. I think there are ways we can break the cycle and the “Rez mindset” that has permeated through modern native culture.

Native youth have adopted the “Rez mindset.” The unemployment rate on the Navajo Reservation is 42%; and 43% of Native Americans live below the poverty rate. In all the places that I’ve lived (over 20 different locations in four separate states), the reservation has had the biggest poverty issue. Native youth witness the state of poverty on the reservation first-hand throughout their childhood. 

Children and adolescents on the reservation have the highest rates of lifetime major depressive episodes and highest self-reported depression rates than any other ethnic group. Native American youth have grown up into believing that improving their condition in life is hopeless. This carries on into their adulthood and prevents the reservation from getting any better. The “Rez mindset” has permeated the young generations and causes them to believe that the reservation cannot be helped.

The 'Rez mindset' has permeated the young generations and causes them to believe that the reservation cannot be helped. #nativeamerican Click To Tweet

Don’t Fall Victim to the Pygmalion Effect

Believing in the hopelessness of the reservation creates and perpetuates this form of self-fulfilling prophecy. This phenomena, known as the Pygmalion effect, can cause negative or positive things to happen as a result of people’s projected expectations. Living on the reservation and seeing its poor conditions gives its residents reason to accept their environment. All too often  you hear the phrase, “Well, that’s the Rez.” The terms, “rezzed out” or “rezzy,” have become synonymous with “bad” or “poor.” 

Most residents believe that the reservation has reached an insurmountable state of poverty. Because our youth have grown to accept this belief, nothing is being done to help. As we grow, we carry this perspective of the reservation into adulthood by continuing to believe that the reservation’s poverty issues are unsolvable. That is why, as a community, improving the reservation is an intimidating challenge because we have made it out to be impossible. Life has conditioned us to accept poverty on the reservation with no hope of it getting better, thus it won’t get better.

Improving the reservation seems impossible because we believe it is impossible. #poverty #rezlife #nativeamerican Click To Tweet

A Call to Break the Cycle of Poverty on the Reservation

As a new generation, we need to start taking action to break the “Rez mindset” and its cycle. Out leaders need to encourage Native youth and tell them that change and reform are possible. When Native youth start helping in their communivties from a young age, they will carry that resolve into adulthood. With a generation of willing young people, we can hope to improve the reservation. 

As adults, we may look at poverty on the reservation as a hopeless problem. But what if we changed our attitude and empowered youth? #nativeyouth #navajo #nativeamerican #poverty #change

The Navajo Nation community should begin more programs and initiatives that will encourage Native youth to produce change. In our nation’s past, President Roosevelt created the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) and WPA (Works Project Administration) programs. Native Americans who participated help amend the economy on the reservations substantially. Programs like YCC (Youth Conservation Corps) and other restorative programs benefit the community and the applicants. 

I’ve participated in a Youth Conservation Corps reconstruction program for Native youth and have seen the results myself. Native youth just need the push of strong encouragement to excel. Therefore, I believe that the reservation should make inspiring Native youth and the public to restore the reservation a priority.

Every generation raised on the reservation continues to ignore its dire poverty conditions. Each generation raised on the reservation has grown into accepting the “Rez mindset” and believes that change is impossible. The reservation will never improve if Native youth resign themselves to a future without hope.

To break the cycle of poverty on the reservation, our elders need to encourage Native youth to help out in their communities in a beneficial way. The reservation is not hopeless. Native youth should be the driving force bring about the reform to diminish poverty on the reservation.

native americans in history
Jolina is a college-bound high school senior. She comes from a multiracial family that consists of mainly Hispanic and Yaqui heritage. When she isn’t dancing to 80s music, she is working to combine her passions for writing and photography by becoming a photojournalist.

A Call to Action: Revealing the Truth about Native American History

by Jolina Barron

The history of Native Americans that students find in their history textbooks is distortedly inaccurate to today’s standards and should be revised and edited. In most history textbooks, Native American history is often misconstrued and brief. New studies from archeologists and researchers suggests that our previous understanding of pre-Columbian Native American civilizations is far from accurate. Textbooks often only cover one particular era of Native American history, their interactions with early settlers, whilst completely ignoring other historical eras. History is a field of study that should always be revisited and revised to meet the available information attained in our modern day.

The Lie of the Savage in American History

The general visualization of Native American civilizations in the pre-Colombian era is one of complete savagery and brutality. But, pre-Colombian Native Americans were not as chaotically uncivilized as previously believed.

Native Americans had advanced civilizations with large populations organized by a system of government. In 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus Charles Mann explains that the large amounts of elaborate pottery found in large midden mounds show evidence that Native American civilizations were well-populated.

To also support this belief, the eyewitness account of Giovanni da Varrazzano describes the Portuguese’s interactions with the Native American as mostly civil and their civilizations as organized and even grand. Throughout da Varrazzano’s voyage they traded and communicated with the Native Americans.

In one instance, he describes one settlement with a great fishing community with boats, and da Varrazanno interacts with their king. Most of the Native Americans helped the Portuguese on their travels; providing food, medicine and sometimes shelter.

The misconception in American history is that Native Americans were merely savage people, but there is substantial evidence to disprove this theory.

What Happens When We Only Tell One Side?

The average American’s view of Native Americans is largely dependent upon what information is found in history textbooks. But, the most covered topic (and sometimes the only topic) of Native Americans in textbooks is their interactions with early European settlers.

If everything you think you know about Native Americans comes from a history textbook, you might want to check your source. Textbooks don't have the final answer. #nativeyouth #nativeamerican #history

When the colonists came to the Americas, most Native American tribes were still recovering from a pandemic that had struck and had greatly diminished the Native American population. The settlers victimized the Native Americans, much like the British had victimized the Scottish. Because of the massacres and the forced slavery of Native Americans by the Europeans, the Native American tribes defended themselves against and attacked the settlers to protect their people.

History textbooks seem to only focus on these events in Native American history, which has enforced the “savage” stereotype in the minds of Americans over the years. In most textbooks, Native Americans are painted as aggressively brutal and out-of-control.

Textbooks often disregard the positive relations between the colonists and Native Americans. For example, in William Bradford’s written account, Squanto and multiple other Native Americans helped the colonists survive in the Americas and attempted to mediate their conflicts with other Native tribes.

Because history textbooks have perpetuated these false truths, generations of American youth believe that Native Americans were nothing more than uncivilized savages.

American history textbooks have perpetuated the lie that Native Americans were nothing more than uncivilized savages. #nativeyouth #history Click To Tweet

History Needs Inspection

History, as a study, should always be revisited and revised. Our knowledge of past history is always changing because nothing in history is completely definite.

New discoveries are found which historians use to form new theories of the past. When strong, new theories are found to be the most accurate to our understanding, that changes our perception of history. Textbooks should be edited and revised frequently to accommodate these new theories.

Because most textbooks have stayed true to the “Indians were savages” lie, today’s people are completely unaware of the truth. There are other sources on the subject of Native American history that are being ignored and excluded from textbooks. Textbooks should be revised to meet the new understanding of Native American history.

Include Native American History in American History Textbooks

Native American history found in history textbooks should be revisited and edited. New evidences show that Native Americans lived in advanced civilizations in large populations and thrived in pre-Columbian era. Most of our knowledge of Native Americans in the pre-Columbian era is misconstrued.

The early aggressive interactions between colonists and Native Americans make up most of the written history and creates the “savage” stereotype. History is a field of study that should be constantly revisited and revised to meet today’s understanding.

native americans in history
Jolina is a college-bound high school senior. She comes from a multiracial family that consists of mainly Hispanic and Yaqui heritage. When she isn’t dancing to 80s music, she is working to combine her passions for writing and photography by becoming a photojournalist.
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