Our Native American culture is a living, breathing entity. It is a tapestry of tradition and values passed on from generation to generation. Today, many of us are aware of the challenges facing Indian country and the struggle to join together in unity and preserve our vibrant culture and history. As Natives, we often discuss the struggle of trying to live and thrive in two worlds: the world of our culture and ancestors and the one of a modern day civilization that is a melting pot of ideals, customs, and beliefs.
Often, when as Indigenous people, we embrace our physical beauty and inner uniqueness, the conflict between these two worlds becomes even more apparent.
There is a generation of proud Native Americans, however, rising up in the midst of the turmoil and persecution of this present day and reclaiming their identity, their heritage, their pride, and their dignity. A generation lifting up an anthem of hope as they break out of the mold and pressure to “fit in” and pursue their cultural identity that has been suppressed for far too long.
Hope. It’s such a simple word, yet it holds the key to so much power and redemption. When hope rises up in our hearts, it's the spark that ignites the flame; it empowers us to take hold of our future and shine bright to the world around us.
The following proud Native Americans are driven by the warrior spirit of their ancestors as they embark on a journey to leave their mark on this world for generations to come:
Blake Pocquette, a member of the Cherokee Nation, is a Hollywood stuntman and stunt coordinator. “I am very proud to be Cherokee and to have been raised in a small town with not much money but lots of love. I grew up without a father, but through rodeo and riding bulls, I had father figures that showed me what it was to prove myself as a man. I have a wonderful, supportive family that I cherish and a great career as a stunt performer and now coordinator and am excited about opening doors for Native youth to career paths they never thought they might have. I am so proud to be a part of Native Hope...the future is ours!”
Alexus Little, a Cherokee, encourages, “I’m doing something. You can do something. Be a light for everyone else around you...I combat the lows [prevalent drug and alcohol use] by getting involved in positive activities: sports, youth groups, and community activities.” Alexus continues, “If I notice someone is feeling down or left out, I try to get them involved, too.” She wants others to know, “You should finish school...go to college, do something fun, inspire others around you...NO ONE should get in the way of what you want to do—if they do, keep pushing and try harder!”
Wanbli Ceya, an Oglala from the Pine Ridge Reservation, is gracious, intelligent, and motivated, but most importantly, he loves his people and wants the best for them. His passion is conveyed as he states, “I am gonna do this...I’m gonna fix this...I am gonna do something. It’s gonna be huge, and you guys are going to fight me on this...but I am crazy about you [Lakotas]. I can’t stop.”
Frank Waln, award-winning Sicangu Lakota Hip Hop artist and music producer from the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota, encourages Native youth, “Stay strong through the hardships, pursue your dreams, and don’t be defined by the negative circumstances you may be experiencing.” Recalling his Rappin’ the Rez with Hope event with Native Hope last fall, he shares, “The school visits the day after the concert were my favorite part of the whole trip. Getting the chance to connect to each student by sharing my personal story helped us all heal together. This whole couple of days [concert, youth council, school visits] were some of the most meaningful and relevant programming I’ve ever seen on a plains reservation. I’m grateful to have been a part of it all.”
Erica Donner, a young Lakota Native American from the Kul Wicasa Oyate, Lower Brule Sioux Tribe, shares her journey to embrace her Native identity stating, “Beauty is when your personality and strength show. I see beauty in people who can genuinely smile when you know just how broken they really are. It shows when you see someone you love doing something that makes them happy! It shows when you can put others before yourself. Beautiful is more than just looks; it’s all about how you feel about yourself, others, and everything in between. Beauty is who you are as a person in whole!”
Dennis Metcalf, a young artist from the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe, states, “When I was younger, I believed the world was against me; it never offered me anything meaningful—it often showed me cruelty, which gave me a negative outlook.” He continues to share that his art is a form of therapy, transporting him to places he longs to be. He adds, “It helps me solidify my position in this universe and reminds me that there is something in my control; the outcome is really up to me. No one else.”
Jordan Marie Daniel (Brings Three White Horses), a member of the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe, is passionate about her people and shares, “I want to be a voice that changes the narrative and helps to make Indian country a better place….hope means to me that not only Indigenous people, but everyone comes together in a unified understanding of what the struggles are and works to make them better in a collaborative effort.”
Jatonne, a musician and member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, states, "Growing up, I always thought there was a certain way people thought I should look…a certain way people thought I should be.” He continues, “Now, the way I look at life is that you have to take chances to actually live….Music is my way of letting things out…when I write something that means something to me, I just hope that when I show it to someone, it means something to them."
Jewel Jandreau, an elder and member of the Kul Wicasa Oyate , states, “It’s time for our people to change our mindset and to break free from all the different types of abuse that are keeping us in bondage. As long as we have life, there’s hope. After we, as a people, take a good look at what has been keeping us from moving ahead for a better life, we can take positive steps to be free to truly live.”
Jackie Bird, a member of the Sisseton Wahpeton Tribe of South Dakota and the Three Affiliated Tribes of North Dakota, shares, “I started taking interest in helping others at an early age. I’m really grateful that I’m honoring my calling of helping others through music. I’ve made a habit of being happy. And even though we’re human beings and have to have contrast and experience hard things too, I’ve just learned to let it take its course.”
Richard the Bow Maker, an Oglala from the Pine Ridge Reservation, share his passion for his heritage through the craftsmanship of bow making. He states, “For me the making of the bow and teaching its rich history reduces the distractions.” He affirms, “There is a lot of good here. There is a very strong spiritual community. The Lakota people have really kept their traditions alive. Wild Oglalas stick to tradition.”
Stephan Cheney, a young Native American from the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe, encourages, “To anyone who’s struggling, you’re beautiful. You’re unique; no one can take that away. You have your uniqueness, something special, and it’s just you. It’s okay to fail; have compassion for yourself.”
Emme, an Oglala and intern at the Akta Lakota Museum at St. Joseph's Indian School, states, "My job is to quite literally maintain the meaning of our Native American contemporary art and record it for our archives and future generations. I have that privilege, and I am so thankful to be given that opportunity. With Native American art there is symbolism, history, culture, politics, spirituality, philosophy, myth, and academics. Native American art inspires hope because it says that we are here. We are strong, intelligent, thriving, and we can do anything we set our minds to, because we are here."
In the Lakota culture, the word tiyospaye encompasses the conviction that family is not only made up of immediate blood relatives but also extends to all those within the tribal clan. The Lakota have a saying that helps to clearly describe this belief: Mitákuye Oyás’iŋ el lechangleska wichoni, which translates: "We are all related in this circle of life." Tiyospaye embraces the beauty of living in harmony, taking care of one another, and trusting each other. Your tiyospaye will support you throughout life’s journeys, whether the road is rocky or the path smooth.
As members of this modern day generation of Native Americans, we must come together as one tiyospaye in community and purpose. It’s imperative that we join together to celebrate the intricate beauty of both our differences and our commonalities. To support one another when the path is smooth or when the road is rocky. To raise our voices in an anthem of hope and to ignite the fire from within.
Will you add your voice today? There is power in unity. We can only accomplish so much on our own, but together we can create a movement that brings tangible change and creates a future of hope. You can give hope and change to the next generation of Native Americans.