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Native American Teenagers of Today

Updated on May 27, 2017
Phyllis Doyle profile image

Phyllis has a strong affinity to Native American traditions, beliefs and spirituality.

Young PowWow Dancers

Teenage PowWow Dancers.
Teenage PowWow Dancers. | Source

Between two Worlds

Midway between an ancient culture steeped with generations of revered traditions, spiritual ceremonies, legends and mystical stories, and the society of today built with technology and strong differing political and religious beliefs, stands our Native American teenager.

Torn between the elders of the family and the tribal commitments to the past and the pressure of peers in the world outside his or her family the teenager is at a crossroads studded with roadblocks. Confusion, resentment and anger often accompany the youth to this point.

Many young people break through these roadblocks and go on to become well adjusted adults, learning how to bring an acceptable and pleasing balance into their lives, but some do not. As with any teenager, these youth have a struggle to overcome and many stumbling blocks to hurdle.

However, for the Native American teenager, these struggles seem to be far more difficult because of the spiritual aspect connected so strongly to their upbringing.

Navajo boy in Today's World

Navajo Boy in Monument Valley, Arizona, 2007
Navajo Boy in Monument Valley, Arizona, 2007 | Source

Finding a Balance

It is extremely difficult in some cases for the parent to impart to the child how to balance the traditions of the past that have been passed down for generations and how to survive in America's current society. These are clearly two different worlds.

This is a poignant and all too familiar predicament for the family to learn how to cope with. To try to instill in your child the ceremonial and traditional ways of observing certain historical dates, events and celebrations is not an easy task when this child is also involved in different observances and requirements instilled by the curriculum of the public schools and churches.

In the school, the student is expected to learn and sometimes submit reports or essays about a holiday or history that completely differs from what he or she has learned at home through the tribal beliefs.

To tell your child that this is okay to do what has to be done in school in order to graduate is often confusing and maybe even disturbing when this youth has been taught from elders of their own culture a different way. To balance these two beliefs leaves the teenager with a struggle between what is right and wrong to their ancestral way of thinking.


Avoiding the Struggle

Sometimes, rather than to battle out the choice between two different thought processes, it is much easier for the teenager to ease away from the problems by turning to other outlets and avoid the struggle.

These "other outlets" may be detrimental to the health, safety and mental attitude of the youth and drastically inhibit their ability to cope with the world they now find themselves in. Drugs, drug pushers, violence, petty theft and other gang related issues are sometimes a place where the teenager can find a place away from the "problems" in life.

When it seems to become hopeless, rather than to try to choose between the traditional Native American way of life, the life that society promotes, or to find a peaceful balance, the teenager turns elsewhere where he or she thinks they will be accepted. Suicide rates are high for those who simply cannot cope with any of these options.

Native American Heritage Month

Since 1990 the month of November has been a Presidential proclamation. This special month honors the contributions American Indians have given to America. It is a time to honor their culture, traditions, ancestral heritage and way of life.

If you are a Native American teenager look to your Elders and Ancestors to learn how to cross the bridge between two cultures and live in Harmony and Balance. Be proud of who you are and proud of your heritage.

Reach high, for stars lie hidden in your soul.

Dream deep, for every dream precedes the goal.

— Ralph Vaull Starr

Storytelling

Native Americans have always used storytelling and songs to teach their young. Stories are told as life lessons and serve as a reminder of tribal heritage.

A good storyteller will know when to emphasize a word or phrase with correct intonation and pitch to bring out emotions in the listeners. Interaction between the storyteller and the audience is very important. Children are very impressionable and this is a good way to instill pride in their way of life and memories of ancestors.

Sadly, storytelling in many tribes has declined over the years because of changes in society that have affected the tribes. There is a way to bring this tradition back to life. One way to do this is to teach teenagers the art of traditional storytelling so they can pass on the tradition to younger children. When a teenager is taught to do this, it can instill in them more respect and admiration for the elders who taught them - which in turn brings back the joy to elders of teaching younger generations. So, it is all a win-win situation.

Geronimo Remembered

Geronimo, an Edward S. Curtis photo
Geronimo, an Edward S. Curtis photo | Source

I was born on the prairies where the wind blew free and there was nothing to break the light of the sun. I was born where there were no enclosures.

— Geronimo

Native American Teens

Catch a Dream and Hold on to it

Vine dreamcatcher.
Vine dreamcatcher. | Source

I was born on the prairies where the wind blew free and there was nothing to break the light of the sun. I was born where there were no enclosures.

— Geronimo

There Is Help

Not all is hopeless for the Native American teenagers and their families. There is help out there for those families who need it and it is our duty and obligation to see that they get it.

To hear these calls for help, to recognize them and to do something about it can be a life rewarding gift. Take the time to see what you can do for the youth of Native American families. To mentor young people and to see them survive the pressures of the teen years and go on to college to find their path in life is an indescribable joy.

Native Americans comprise a large portion of the total population in the United States. Many Native Americans are successful and professional people who are willing and able to offer help and insight to those who need it, there are also non-Native Americans who understand and want to offer help.

It is crucial for the teenagers to be able to receive the help they need in order to survive and grow past the struggles they are facing on a daily basis. To have a mentor, someone outside the family and the schools, is one way for a young person to receive insight and understanding of today's way of life and to help find a balance between their ancestral traditions and society.

To see a Native American teenager become lost to both worlds is a heart rendering sadness that is unnecessary but avoidable. To see the same teenager survive and become a strong adult able to teach his or her own children to find peace and balance is a joy beyond compare and contributes greatly to the world.

To be able to weave together the old traditional way of life, to uphold and honor their ancestors by carrying on the generations of practices and to survive in the society at large are two elements of balance the teenager needs and are essential to a teenagers' mental and spiritual development.

A very good movie about a teenage boy and his Grandfather is one titled Dreamkeeper. It is about a resentful young man who learns the old ways and how to respect and be proud of his ancestors from the wisdom of his grandfather. It is a wonderful story and touches so deeply on what the Native American teenager faces today. It is highly recommended to anyone who wants to learn more about today's youth of Native American peoples.

Some organizations who give support to today's Native American youth:

Native American Youth and Family Center
http://www.nayapdx.org/

In The Mix - Native American Teens - Who We Are
http://www.pbs.org/inthemix/shows/show_nativeamericanteens.html

Teach Your Children Well

Native American Ten Commandments ~

Treat the Earth and all that dwell therein with respect

Remain close to the Great Spirit

Show great respect for your fellow beings

Work together for the benefit of all Mankind

Give assistance and kindness wherever needed

Do what you know to be right

Look after the well-being of Mind and Body

Dedicate a share of your efforts to the greater Good

Be truthful and honest at all times

Take full responsibility for your actions

© 2012 Phyllis Doyle Burns

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    • Mr Archer profile image

      Mr Archer 5 years ago from Missouri

      Well written and informative. The plight of the Native American has always torn at my heart. I have some Cherokee / Choctaw blood in my family, known through family history, but not enough to make the connection past to present. I appreciate your empathy to the Natives, and wish you well on your endeavors.

    • ALUR profile image

      ALUR 5 years ago from USA

      Anyone that comes from a dual culture and especially one that has been stolen or taken has a lot to contemplate. I come from a Palestinian heritage living in the US for a long time wanting to overcome stereotypes and embrace the beauty of my two worlds.

      A child can only handle so much with will but mind fullness will open doors of possibility.

      Thanks for this hub.

    • Phyllis Doyle profile image
      Author

      Phyllis Doyle Burns 5 years ago from High desert of Nevada.

      Mr. Archer, thank you so much for stopping by and reading. I have such strong affinity with the Native American peoples and find it so sad that these things happen in today's world. I also find it difficult to comprehend why our government can spend so much money in other countries and not do more to help the First Peoples of this nation.

      Thank you for your comments and support.

    • Phyllis Doyle profile image
      Author

      Phyllis Doyle Burns 5 years ago from High desert of Nevada.

      Hi Alur. Thank you so much for the visit and comments. It really struck home when you wrote:

      "A child can only handle so much with will but mind fullness will open doors of possibility."

      That is so true. It is wonderful that you embrace the beauty of your two worlds. May you always walk in Peace and Harmony.

    • writer20 profile image

      Joyce Haragsim 5 years ago from Southern Nevada

      May every child walk in peace,voted up and interesting, Joyce.

    • Phyllis Doyle profile image
      Author

      Phyllis Doyle Burns 5 years ago from High desert of Nevada.

      Thank you, Joyce, for your visit and votes. Children, regardless of their culture and ancestry, are our future and we need to make sure they get all they need to grow spiritually and find their path in life.

      We do not inherit the Earth from our Ancestors, we borrow it from our children.

    • eolikes profile image

      eolikes 5 years ago from Bangladesh

      very well written and informative also.. Good job

    • Phyllis Doyle profile image
      Author

      Phyllis Doyle Burns 5 years ago from High desert of Nevada.

      eolikes, thank you so much for the visit and comments. I am glad you liked this hub.

    • Sonya L Morley profile image

      Sonya L Morley 5 years ago from Edinburgh

      This is a great article about an important subject. Children and teenagers deserve protection and nourishment in all areas of their lives, particularly those who are torn in half by an adult world that demands so much of them.

    • Phyllis Doyle profile image
      Author

      Phyllis Doyle Burns 5 years ago from High desert of Nevada.

      Thank you, Sonya. I appreciate your visit and comment. You are so spot on. Children and teenagers do deserve protection and nourishment -- they are our joys of today and our hope for tomorrow.

      Have a great day.

    • Vellur profile image

      Nithya Venkat 5 years ago from Dubai

      This is an eye-opener to the struggles of the Native American Teenager. All teenagers should enjoy and have fun irrespective of where they come from. Another great hub. Voted up.

    • Phyllis Doyle profile image
      Author

      Phyllis Doyle Burns 5 years ago from High desert of Nevada.

      Hi Vellur. Thanks for stopping by. Our Native American teens do have a lot to struggle with. Our youth, regardless of their heritage, need support and encouragement to reach their highest potential. Thanks for the comment and the vote. It is much appreciated.

    • Ruby H Rose profile image

      Maree Michael Martin 4 years ago from Northwest Washington on an Island

      I am so thankful I ran across this hub! Very helpful, beautiful and true! All of our teens need help sorting out their truths. Great information!

    • Phyllis Doyle profile image
      Author

      Phyllis Doyle Burns 4 years ago from High desert of Nevada.

      Thank you so much, Ruby, for stopping by and for your comments. The youth of today need the guidance of their Elders more than ever. We need to impart to them their own heritage to help them find their truths and faith in themselves. Thank you, Ruby.

    • ahorseback profile image

      ahorseback 4 years ago

      I visited theTaos Pueblos ,New Mexico and the Puyete [cliff dwelling} and am somewhat exicited about the youth there ,Some of the Puyute Indians were very much into their own history as well as being very informative to other cultures about it . There is , however a sadness about the lost youth ........for that matter , in any culture ! Awesome Hub !....Keep it up !+++++

    • Phyllis Doyle profile image
      Author

      Phyllis Doyle Burns 4 years ago from High desert of Nevada.

      Thank you so much, ahorseback. I am glad you stopped by to read and talk about Taos Pueblos -- fascinating area. I appreciate your visit and comments. Thanks again.

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