Voices of Native Youth

Why You Shouldn’t Tell a Native Youth to Stay in School

Have you ever had someone tell you to stay in school? How did you feel? According  to a friend of mine, an adult told her to stay in school and it made her feel pressured. She had to push herself to work hard and improve her grades. When the adult told her to stay in school she felt that if she didn’t, she would be a failure.

Finishing school is great, but having the pressure put on you is too much. There are reasons why native youth don’t finish school. Some may have experienced abuse and some may have trouble keeping up with their education while caring for family members. Maybe other family members could help care for their younger siblings or grandparents then they could continue their education.

Native Youth need their education to succeed in the future. It really bothers me when middle-class white people tell me to stay in school. Especially when they don’t understand how education is on the Reservation, our personal problems, and the family responsibilities we have.

Reservation Schools

People don’t realize how hard it is to live on the Reservation and to get a good education. According to Rebecca Clarren in an article entitled “How America is Failing Native American Students says, “American Indian and Alaska Native students are more likely to be suspended then any other racial group, with the exception of African Americans.” If they are suspended they will miss out on some of their education. The longer the suspension, they more days they’ll miss. Suspension makes you feel hopeless and at risk because you are suspended and falling behind.

According to the same article, “The high levels of poverty on Native American Reservations do create barriers to educational success.” If the white people knew how hard it is to live on the Reservation, then they would understand. Instead of accusing us of not wanting to succeed, white people need to understand the reasons behind our behavior. Native Americans we are capable of proving wrong those who misunderstand our abilities to achieve.

Depression and Anxiety Create Barriers to Success

Most white people don’t understand how personal problems can keep Native youth from succeeding in the future. Thirty-nine percent of American Indians adolescent suffer from depression. According to Aisha Mays, MD UCSF Department of Family and Community Medicine, “A lot of teens don’t get help for the depression they have.” When teens don’t get help for their depression it can cause harm or lack of self-worth. They need support when going through depression

Jerald G. Bachman, Patrick M. O’Malley and M. Brent Donnellan in a study entitled Adolescent Self-Esteem state that, “self- esteem relates to demographic characteristics such as race/ethnicity and, to a lesser extent, gender, and age.” Of course race/ethnicity causes lack of self-worth because of how Native youth are being treated.

Nobody should be feeling overwhelmed due to their ethnicity and race. In other words, People need to realize that Native youth feel sensitive about their stories and speak to them in ways that don’t condescend or make them feel put down.

Native Youth Caregivers

Taking care of family members can effect a Native youth’s education. What many people don’t realize is that Native youth feel pressure from their families to help care for younger siblings or older relatives while the parents work.

Here's why one student thinks you shouldn't tell a Native youth to stay in school. Her reasons and solutions might surprise you. #nativeyouth #nativeamerican #educaiton #success #graduation #mentorship

According to an article from the American Psychological Association, “as many as 1.4 million U.S. children age 8 to 18 are caring for a parent, grandparent or sibling with a disability or illness.” The article goes on to say that “Many of these young caregivers are from low-income, single-parent households.” For instance, young caregivers want to remain in school, but caregiving affects their education.

When young caregivers are in school their ability to concentrate drops, their mood changes, and they want to drop-out to care for their siblings or parents. Young caregivers might not achieve their goals or have a career in the future. According to Connie Siskowski, RN, PhD, of the American Association of Caregiving Youth, in a 2006 poll funded by the Gates Foundation, 22 percent of young adults who dropped out of the school for personal reasons cited family caregiving as their primary motive.

Youth should have support from other family members so they can keep up with their education. For that reason, people need to realize that Native youth are putting their lives on hold to care for their siblings or grandparents. People shouldn’t assume that kids just drop out of school because they want to.

We’d Like to Succeed: Here’s What We Need

Native Youth find it difficult when white people tell us to stay in school when they don’t really know how hard life is for us. Some say Native Americans can’t succeed, but we can prove them wrong. It would help if instead of people telling us to ‘Stay in school,’ they would ask us ‘What can we do to help make it possible for you to stay in school?’

Instead of telling Native youth to 'Stay in school,' adults should ask, 'How can we help make it possible for you to stay in school?' #education #nativeyouth Click To Tweet

White people don’t understand we put our lives on hold for our siblings and grandparents because we have that connection with them. If white people understand what we go through every day then it would be easier for us.

Thalia loves to read and she hopes that her love of reading will help her when she finishes high school and studies to work in the medical field.

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).

The Importance of Good Role Models for Native Youth

How Important Do You Think Good Role Models are to Native Americans? 

Most people have heard about Ben Carson, the famous neurosurgeon. But not everyone knows about his early life. According to one article about Ben Carson, “The family was very poor and to make ends meet Sonya sometimes toiled at two or three jobs simultaneously in order to provide for Ben and Curtis.” He grew up in the ghetto but stayed focused every time he felt down. As Ben grew up, his mother played a great role of being a mother and providing what she could. She was always lifting her boys up when they needed it the most. His mother always encouraged Ben to do his best. Despite all they have gone through, Ben Carson became successful as a neurosurgeon. 

Parents don’t realize how important it is to be good role models for Native youth. Teachers and parents need to be good role models because their kids watch what their teachers and parents do, more than they listen to what they say. Parents and role models need to be aware of the burden of poverty, family influence, and family involvement.

The Legacy of Poverty

Parents don’t realize that their life of poverty affects their children. For example, my grandparents only finished eighth grade and some of high school.  They didn’t notice that their lack of education would set a poor example for my parents. My parents didn’t finish high school and it continued the cycle of living in poverty. Since my parents didn’t finish high school, it is very difficult for them to find steady work. Good jobs require high school diplomas and that was something my grandparents and parents don’t have. In other words, I am at risk to continue the cycle of poverty and dropping out of school. 

Negative family actions influence kids to repeat the same behavior. For instance, some of my relatives act violently, make bad decisions, and drink alcohol. Their examples have affected us younger ones to act in negative ways. Seeing our older relatives act this way makes it difficult for me to resist acting the same way.

Teachers as Role Models

Family members have the opportunity to act as good role models for Native Youth. One high school student explains how. #ownvoices #nativeyouth #navajo #nativeamerican

As a Native American woman, I’ve experienced some teachers who wanted us to be successful and some who didn’t want us to succeed as a person. In the fifth grade, I had a Native American teacher who would put students down because they weren’t focused enough. I personally think older adults, like parents and teachers, should show good examples to kids who want to become better people. I’ve never been shown a good example from my relatives, and I could be capable of not showing good examples for myself and younger family members.

Families tell their kids to behave in a certain way, but their actions provide a different role model. For an example, my family has always told us kids to behave ourselves everywhere we went. When we’re in school, my siblings and I act in a good way because my family want us to do well, but sometimes they don’t act the way they expect us to act. They don’t realize that since their actions speak louder than words, it could affect our behavior everywhere else.

Relatives push us to do our best and to be really focused on what’s in front of us, but when they use alcohol, it drags us down with them. It affects my ability to stay positive and have a good mindset when relatives put me down because it hurts me. My personal opinion: I deeply feel like my relatives should be the ones lifting me up and encouraging me to keep striving for what is good for us. But sometimes they are the ones that make us feel worse by putting us down. Sometimes I put people down and continue the negative behavior that I have seen, but that’s not who I want to be. 

Native youth need good role models in order to succeed. Their families need to lead the way. #nativeyouth #rolemodel Click To Tweet

Actions Yell, Words Whisper

Based on my examples about my family, I still think families should be more involved in their children’s lives and should be able to be there for them in many different ways. I believe family support is important for Native youth. My family has lived in poverty, therefore, I am at greater risk of living in poverty, as I get older. That’s something I want to change as a person. Due to family influence, I haven’t gotten the chance to see with my own eyes what good family role models looks like. 

I have that power to show a great example to my younger siblings and show them what is good and to not act in a negative way. I also didn’t realize that God wants us to love everyone like he loved us, even if they are putting you down. Therefore, I want to become a better person and avoid the cycle of poverty. I want to provide a good role model for my younger siblings and avoid acting like the role models I’ve had in my life. I want to be the change in everyone’s eyes and show people that there is a bright side in life and that it’s not always about spreading negativity.

Aliandra has a Navajo-Mexican heritage. Her favorite things about high school are sports, doing math, journaling, singing, sleeping and taking photos. Her biggest goal is to become successful as a brain surgeon and for her voice to be heard in writing because sometimes it’s difficult to express yourself out loud. One of her pet peeves are BUGS and people with no fashion sense.
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