Voices of Native Youth

A Growth Mindset Might Not Be Enough for Native Youth

Native youth struggle with becoming successful even if they have the right growth mindset. One of my friend’s cousins has struggled, even though she had goals in life. People’s negative expectations kept pulling her down. She struggled because of the lack of resources in her family and eventually she wandered down the path of alcohol and drug use.

Her story made me think of why Native youth struggle so much. We might not reach our goals because of negative expectations, environmental factors, and lack of resources.

Growth Mindset Starts With People’s Expectations

Having a growth mindset might not be enough for a Native youth to achieve his or her goals. Three other factors (ones you can help with) play a part. #pygmalioneffect #growthmindset #nativeyouth #education

People’s negative expectations hold Native youth back. Projecting negative expectations onto Native youth puts the Pygmalion Effect into action. The Pygmalion Effect is when expecting certain behaviors makes them more likely to occur. A study on the Pygmalion effect (also referred to as the Rosenthal study), took place at an elementary school where students were given intelligence pre-tests. Twenty percent of the students showed potential for growth, but a group of students were actually randomly picked and placed in a class for exceptional students. All of the students showed growth when they retook the test, showing that when we expect students to do well, they will live up to our expectations. 

The opposite can also happen. For example, when my older sister Kayla was in the fifth grade, her teacher told her, “Your sisters are better at math than you. You’ll be repeating middle school while your sisters go to high school without you.” Kayla struggled in school all because of a comment which unknowingly put the Pygmalion Effect into motion, causing her to get bad grades after she completed the fifth grade. Now that she’s at a new school, where everyone expects her to do well, she’s finally finding success. Putting your negative expectations on Native youth may not impact you negatively, but it does have a very negative impact on Native youth such as Kayla.

The Debilitating Effects of Poverty

We as Native youth are held back by our environment. According to a 2013 article on the American Psychological Association’s website, “In 2009, poor (bottom 20 percent of all family incomes) students were five times more likely to drop out of high school than high-income (top 20 percent of all family incomes) students.” An astonishing 33% of Native youth come from families living below the poverty line (compared to 14% of the general population). This means that Native students will have a harder time in school because they are suffering from the effects of poverty. 

Statistics don't lie. Native American students start school at a disadvantage. No wonder they fail to thrive. #nativeamerican Click To Tweet

The type of environment that you live in affects your ability to achieve your goals. Poverty can not only impact school success but mental health, too. The stress of poverty can put a strain on a kid’s mental health with the constant worry of having sufficient funds to do well in school. Stress of poverty can also lead Native youth to drop out because they will need to help provide for their family. Poverty can impact not only school success, but mental health, too, which can hold native youth back from achieving their goals.

Family Support is Pure Gold

Native youth don’t have the resources we need to achieve our goals. Support from family is a resource Native youth often don’t have. Support from family isn’t very common because we really aren’t expected to go to college. Some of the Native youth’s family members expect them to stay home and watch over their younger siblings and take care of the house. Even if we choose to go to college, distance and financial support will make it even more difficult. 

When I was younger my mother went to University of New Mexico (UNM), while we stayed at our grandma’s house, who was still living in Crownpoint at the time. My mom drove herself to and from the school for her classes, she also used student loans to pay for school which she is still paying off, but it was all worth it, because she is now a nurse. Native youth might not have the right resources such as support from family or financial support which could cause Native youth to struggle with achieving their goals.

We Have Dreams, Too!

Native youth feel like they aren’t able to achieve their goals because of several factors holding them back. Projecting your negative expectations onto us will make it more likely that we’ll fail. Poverty will make it more difficult for us to succeed, and it impacts our mental health. When we don’t have support from family or financial support, it makes it difficult to reach our goals despite our growth mindset. Native youth might struggle with these things, but we want to dream big and work hard so we can achieve our goals. 

Keira is a fifteen-year-old Navajo girl with two sisters. She is the middle triplet, and hates it when people think she’s exactly like her sisters. She loves being unique. Her hobbies are reading, drawing, listening to music and watching TV, which she thoroughly enjoys doing.

Successful Native Americans Have a Growth Mindset

The Path to Success Takes Determination

Native Americans go through hardships but can still be successful in life. Non-Natives judge when life isn’t easy for Natives, but we can still succeed by overcoming difficult obstacles. We don’t have a lot in life, but there are opportunities we can take. Life is not easy for Natives, but we can succeed because we have examples of Native Americans that have became successful in life because they have a growth mindset. They took paths to get where they are now, and even though life is hard, they manage to conquer those difficulties.

'Successful Native American' is NOT an oxymoron! #growthmindset #nativeamerican Click To Tweet

Some people think that the term successful Native Americans is an oxymoron, but that is not true. For example, Jamie Okuma is a successful Native American that has her own clothing line and business. She graduated from high school and college, leading to her success. Okuma took classes aiming for her goal of designing and creating art. She started by selling her work at a couple of markets, and now her work is displayed in museums and art institutions. 

Henry Red Cloud, member of the Lakota Souix tribe, grew up in poverty and is another example of a successful Native American entrepreneur. He became founder of Lakota Solar Enterprises. He started his business in 2004 with degrees in sociology and cultural ecology. His renewable energy business is the only one believed to be owned by Native Americans in the U.S. In short, Native Americans can be successful.

Dangerous Detours

Life is hard because we don’t have the full support we need. For example I have a family member who has no dad. Her mom and older brother got into drugs and alcohol, and are not usually home. Therefore, this has affected the way she lives and thinks. She had no good role models, and because of this she dropped out of school and is following her family steps. As a result she doesn’t care about her actions and how it effects her and others around her, she finds happiness in the “high” she sees in drugs and alcohol. 

Jovannah Poor-Bear Adams, a Lakota Sioux, has experienced a life of hardships. For instance, she went through abandonment from her family and emotional abuse. Her dad went to prison, so she was missing her dad for part of life. While growing up she also had no food and money. Despite the hardships she went through, she graduated, went to college, has a family of her own, and she is the vice-principle of a school for Native American students. Most people experience challenges throughout life that make it hard to succeed, but it is still possible to overcome them.

It’s all about Growth Mindset

Society might think that the term 'successful Native American' is an oxymoron. It's not. With a growth mindset, Native Americans CAN succeed. #nativeyouth #nativeamerican #success #growthmindset

Keeping a positive growth mindset and making the right choices can help Natives become successful. My auntie kept a positive mindset and made good decisions growing up. She and her husband remodeled their own home, do their own business, and help others.  My auntie saw how her family drank and it affected them. She didn’t want that lifestyle for herself, so she finished school without doing any drugs or alcohol. Imagine if she did start taking drugs and alcohol, she wouldn’t have had a good future. Her life is good because she made good decisions and took the right path. 

Brandi Charley, who is a full Navajo, claims that by setting goals and staying focused on those goals you can be successful. She also credits having the right mindset and being confident in yourself. Brandi grew up with her family drinking around her and doing drugs. She didn’t have the best models while growing up, this caused her to follow their steps.

Brandi managed to stay in school and finish high school. She eventually stopped drinking and and doing drugs. Once she set a goal to become a model, she kept what she wanted her mind. She is still pushing herself to achieve her goals. Today she is a model in Phoenix, AZ, and has her own YouTube channel that shows inside her work and her life. Clearly, to be successful you have to aim for your goals in life and make good decisions for yourself that will have a positive effect on you. 

Yes, Native American’s CAN Succeed!

These examples explain and prove that although life can be hard for Native Americans, we can still manage to become successful. There are examples of Native Americans that have became successful despite the challenges. It’s possible to overcome the hard times in your life and become successful. Having a positive growth mindset for yourself and following the right path that will be beneficial to your future will help a lot with achieving your goals.

There ARE opportunities for us Native Americans, we can become successful even though we don't have it easy growing up.  Click To Tweet
Heather Dixon is a Navajo high school student who wants every teacher to give her a watermelon when she graduates from high school (or a pet fish).

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