It’s simple. Too many young Native Americans are being left behind. These young people are struggling to walk in two worlds: the Native world and the contemporary world. These are two very different places. Native Americans are in a struggle to maintain their identity, feeling the weight of outside stigma and criticism due to ignorance. There is an unbearable hopelessness, often pushing Native people toward a darkness that dims their future and opening a door to poverty, drugs, alcohol, suicide, and all forms of physical and sexual abuse.
The Pine Ridge Reservation captured national headlines last year when 12-year-old Santana Janis took her own life. Suicide is always a tragedy, but when it happens to someone so young, with so much life left unlived, it’s unbearable. To think about the pain and hopelessness that she must have been feeling—it’s heartbreaking. Teen suicide is an epidemic among the Native American population. Too often, suicide is seen as the only way out of abuse, molestation, and poverty.
Undergirding these heartbreaking, real stories in the heartland of America is destitute poverty. A multitude of these Native American reservations are poorer than many third-world countries. For the Pine Ridge Reservation, there is 80-90% unemployment. The life expectancy is 48 years for men and 52 years for women—the second lowest in the entire Western Hemisphere.
Teen suicide and record poverty levels aren’t the only disturbing problems plaguing Native American youth living on reservations. Domestic abuse, rape, and sex trafficking are urgent issues that are happening in distressing numbers. Underage Native American teens are being lured into forced prostitution in exchange for drugs, alcohol, or even just food and shelter. Once they get in, they feel they can never get out and often keep it hidden for fear they will disgrace their families.
Amidst the dire statistics and afflictions, however, there is an awakening stirring in the hearts of a generation. Native American youth are rising up and reclaiming their identity, their culture, their pride, and their dignity. They are breaking out of the mold and pressure to “fit in” and pursuing their cultural identity that has been suppressed for far too long. Encompassing education along with their pride of culture has been an undeniable tool for creating a path filled with possibility and life. They are taking a stand of empowerment and inviting others to partner with them and join their movement of hope, embracing the Dakota, Nakota, and Lakota way of life.
At Native Hope, as the name suggests, we believe that hope is at the foundation of real change. Hope opens the door to possibility and dreams. If we are going to see changes for the next generation, it’s going to start with hope. Native Hope creates relationships and works with partners who have the same vision we do. Our goal is to fund those who are already making a significant difference in the lives of Native American youth.
We invite you to be a part of impacting an entire culture with hope. A full 100% of public donations we receive from people like you goes directly to specific programs that focus on suicide prevention, counseling, shelter, education, and cultural revitalization. Through your gift, you can help honor Native American youth by providing tangible tools that open up doors of opportunity for a bright and promising future.