The two worlds of native American teens
(Page 2 of 2)
At Montana State University in Bozeman, which has a sizable contingent of native students, Young says it's rare for a semester to go by without a student having to return to a reservation for a funeral. "Death is always there when you grow up in a culture of extended families," she says. "Grieving is a regular part of our lives but it's also made us better survivors."Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Young is critical of the national media which, within hours of the shooting, descended upon Red Lake's insular society and then seemed perplexed when the community turned inward upon itself - as most tribes have learned to do in response to horrific events in frontier history.
"Red Lake touches a chord in Indian country," Young says. "Suffering the loss of children anywhere is tragic. But when you live in small closed societies like we do, our children are our profoundest expression of hope and it's especially painful when one of our own does something like this."
Young, herself a mother and a grandmother, says it is the extended family structure of native clanship and blood lines which functions as a vital support network. Routinely, grandparents provide a seminal role in sheltering young people against pain and suffering. That's partially why Weise's turning a gun on his own grandfather before bringing his rage to school is so stunning to teachers and students here.
At Hardin High School on the Crow reservation, Sariah Two Leggins wrestles with that issue. Grandparents are revered in native America as keepers of tribal tradition and the glue that holds families together. "It's a pretty severe thing to murder a grandparent," Sariah says. "I respect our elders because ... there's so much we can learn from them."
A shy student athlete, Sariah battles powerful peer pressures, but her abstinence from drinking has won the admiration of her parents and her guidance counselor Janice Singer, who has worked in the local school system for 26 years.
"Sariah doesn't realize how important she is as a role model," Ms. Singer says of the star basketball player who wants to major in American history at college next year.
At Lame Deer High School, Cinnamon, also drug and alcohol free, is a 4.0 student and a standout runner and volleyball player. Her dream is to become a doctor and return to the reservation to practice medicine.
Boys have it tougher, Singer says. They have fewer positive role models and, in addition, the better-paying jobs on the reservation often are held by women.
But despite the negative aspersions sometimes cast on native communities, guidance counselor Singer mentions small things that give her cause for optimism.
Until fairly recently, kids at Hardin High were reluctant to engage in traditional dances at school events because it wasn't considered hip. Then last year a group of freshmen stepped forward and now the kids in the grades following them are embracing it with gusto. "The younger students are starting to be more proud of their culture," Singer says.