Voices of Native Youth

Hoping for a Future without Poverty on 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

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.

2 thoughts on “Hoping for a Future without Poverty on the Reservation

  1. Jolina, I hope that Native American leaders read this post and listen to your ideas. You have some great suggestions. If I were wealthy, I’d hire you to be a motivational speaker on the Rez!

  2. Jolina, I’m so impressed and moved by what you shared about the hopelessness experienced by Native youth. It opened my eyes to your struggle and reminded me of similar struggles I experienced, growing up in Puerto Rico. The good news is that there IS hope for the future and for breaking out of poverty and other negative cycles. Let’s keep going, fighting, learning and moving towards a brighter future! Oh, and I love 80s music, too!

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