We have powerful voices and stories that need to be heard. Check out the stories below from youth throughout Indian Country and be sure to share your story today!
Growing up in a small town was not a bad life for me. However, growing up in a small school with people outside my culture/race was hard. I remember being picked on for my skin, long hair, and for the way I did things. Years of this lead to depression and it lead to multiple acts of self harm. I pushed myself away from what I knew and what I loved in the hopes of being accepted. I thought it would help make me happy but it just made me sad. Years of self torment went by and my spirit grew weak. My friends and family did not know what I did, but they soon found out. I tried to quit, but it was like an addiction. In 2011, a great opportunity happened. I was asked to represent the All Nations Powwow Committee as their princess. This began a new life for me and brought me back to the circle and to the life I love. My culture saved me and I thank Aba'binili' (Creator) for it everyday. This year will be 6 years since I went back to my roots and it will be 2 1/2 years since my last self harm incident. Times may get tough and get you low, but the remedy I recommend is to follow your ancestors and their ways. These ways heal the spirit and it will brighten your path. Thank you for listening to my story, and I hope you fill your life with happiness.
-Faithlyn Seawright (Chickasaw), age 18, is from the Chickasaw Nation in Oklahoma and is passionate about culture revitalization and native pride.
I used to be the one who would sit in the back of the room & cling to my Mom. After being bullied in school I didn't think I or my voice mattered or that I was beautiful. It was only when I attended the NCNAYO (North Carolina Native American Youth Organization) conference, a State wide conference for Native youth, that I felt like I could be more. I was amazed by how many youth came together to take part in the conference & that it was a youth led event! I was able to talk w/ youth my age, make friends, experience my culture & enjoy the speakers & workshops they had! After the conference I knew I had to be apart of NCNAYO so I ran for County Representative & got the position. I was truly happy to be around so many youth & not feel judged or less than. NCNAYO has done so much for me. I was able to become a leader, comfortable in my own skin & my own person. If it wasn't for NCNAYO I'd probably still be too afraid to say my own name out loud.
-Halona Benjamin (Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina), age 18, is from Fayetteville, North Carolina and is passionate about bettering the lives of future Native
In my freshmen year, I got myself involved with a guy. Yes, I was happy. I felt like nothing could bring my happiness down. We were together for almost more than two years. I was focused on my future and education. I joined clubs they offered at my high school during my freshmen year. I started having a passion on being involved within my community and help spread positivity. But, one year later after my relationship, it became an on and off thing. Negativity started happening. The hurtful things a guy can say to you randomly. As time passed, our relationship got worse. I tried to get myself out of the relationship, but soon we got back together. I messed up during my sophomore year. I started lacking the motivation of doing school work. In the summer of 2015, we broke up, but still the bad things kept happening. After every bad thing, I put myself into depression. I lost the passion I had for hoop dancing, community involvement, school, and pow-wows. One day my mother took me to doctor's office and they prescribed me medications. When that moment happened, I told myself to change. I never took the medications they prescribed me with. I got up and went back into dancing, school, and being involved with clubs. Dancing brought a huge difference into my life. It brought healing and peace. I started traveling like the way I used too. As time went, I started feeling happy again. It was like a moment, I forgot what happiness was about. To people who fall into depression and feel like you are alone, you’re not. You have many loved ones who love you for you. You can get through it. If many people, get through hard difficulties so can you. Always be you and love yourself.
-Jasmine Sanchez (Navajo), age 18, is from Bloomfield, New Mexico. She's passionate about being a leader to her people and being able to help youth around
her community to better themselves. She wants youth to know that they have different resources available.
My Dad is Huichol and Mexican (Mexican/South American tribes) so growing up in the US without a strong community was really hard. For a long time, my only
connection to my culture was through family visits and gifts that would come in the mail. In high school, I reached out to other Native kids and I
was really surprised that they accepted me so readily even though my tribes are south of the border. This gave me a sense of purpose and a drive to
fight for Indigenous rights, especially for victims of sexual assault and domestic violence (both of which I have experienced). There are some resources
for survivors, but Native survivors can find a lot of healing in culturally based programs. The best medicine comes from inside and our communities
should be conductors of that. Language preservation and revitalization is also something I care deeply for. My grandmother's first language was Nahuatl,
but no one else was taught how to speak it. I still don't know how to speak it, but I've made an effort to learn basic words and now I can count, name
colors, name some animals, and say basic phrases. I don't know if I'll ever learn more than that, but speaking your language is powerful. I've also
picked up a lot of Ojibwe to help my boyfriend (Saginaw Chippewa) learn so we can pass it on to our kids in the future. Even when it gets hard, I want
young Natives to keep trying to learn their language and keep their cultures alive. Our grandparents fought for us to be here and the fact that we
exist against all odds is resistance.
Packed bags. Yet again, saying goodbye to loved ones. A tight hug as my mother roughly whispers "be careful out there," in my ear, my boyfriend's soft baby blue shirt on my back, my dad's cheap smoky cologne stuck to my collar, my brother's tight hugs, everyone’s occasional sniffle; then I'm off. Another city, another town, another state. All I know is stretches of highways that never seem to end, airport terminals that start to look like each other, the rumbling of a car on a pavement, and the hum of an airplane engine as I soar through the air at 30,000 feet. It's all the same to me. Either way, I am leaving again. So now I am stuck with more boarding passes, flight attendants with fake smiles, and watered down coffee that is supposed to keep me awake. Why am I doing this again? A few hours after being in the air trying to write my homework assignments, eating stale peanuts, and sipping that dreaded coffee; I finally arrive. I settle into an uncomfortable plastic chair next to the closest outlet and plug my phone to make sure I didn’t miss anything too exciting. All around me conversations buzz with excitement. "Do you think grandma misses us?" Duh. "What do you think San Diego will look like?" Sold-out. Wait, I am getting ahead of myself. I bet you are wondering why I hate traveling so much. It wasn't always like this. I actually use to love traveling; to make this easier to understand, let's go back to the beginning, then it will make sense how a high school student could learn to dislike something people only dream of. Ever since I was a kid I was told I would travel the world and I wouldn’t be tied down to the restraints of my hometown. Ever since I could walk, I would escape the house and try to run to somewhere else. Home is just a place I never wanted to be. I would sit on my roof and stare at the airplanes in the sky, I wanted to be where they were. I was so full of wonder and I wanted to escape and learn about the world from my own experiences. When I began middle school I developed generalized anxiety disorder and depression; causing me to feel like life was useless. This stemmed from years of being bullied, tormented, and rejected by my peers. The next two years would be an uphill battle between doctors, medications, counselors, therapists, and self-harm. The world felt like it was always collapsing inside of my head and I couldn’t escape. It figuratively felt like 100 bombs going off in your head all at once. By 8th grade I decided I had to get up and change my life because no one was going to change it for me. That’s the same year I had learned that I got accepted to the Natural Helpers Club. In this club I would learn about bullying, suicide prevention, and how the legislative system works from a first person point of view. It was a simple club, we would meet every week during lunch. We made one movie on YouTube® that I am only partially proud of. It seemed small, like something you do to make your parents proud of you. Yet, in this club I learned the skills and the connections that would begin to pave the path that would be my next four years. I also made real friends for the first time in my life. I never knew what having friends actually felt like until I joined this club. My leader was a nice lady by the name of Liz. I never learned her full name or her last name. Her name could be on a document I have, but I like to remember her as Liz. She told me that she saw special potential in the eyes of me and my best friend, Kaylee Pesina. This “special potential” was the reason that my best friend and I were introduced to GASP (Gun Access and Suicide Prevention.) This is where I first got to start traveling and getting out of my comfort zone. I was meeting new (important) people, and I was gaining a self-confidence I never had before. This was just a fun thing that I would do on Wednesday nights with 11 other people in a stuffy conference room. I still remember my fir.
-Kateri Daw (Navajo), age 18, is from Albuquerque, NM and is passionate about Suicide Prevention.
I’ve been on the heavy side for as long as I can remember. I didn’t mind it when I was little and neither did the other little kids in my pre-schools or kindergarten class, or first grade class because what little kid focuses on another kids appearance? For the first six years of my life I lived in a small town where all the kids went to the same school from elementary to high school. I was a happy, carefree kid that had many friends and loved meeting new people. I never met a cruel person when I lived there. But that changed when I moved to the city. Going from a small town to a big city was a huge cultural shock. The kids at my new school weren’t as welcoming like the ones at my old school. I didn’t transfer in the middle of the year, I finished first grade at my old school so I had a fresh start the new school year. My second grade teacher was really nice and welcoming but the students, they were more standoffish than anything. I didn’t understand why I played by myself during recess when the other kids played with each other. Even at a young age, they had their own groups that carried over from first grade and younger.
I didn’t make my first friend until the next year in third grade. We were seated next to each other since our last names were next to each other in the class list. Hers being Saeed and mine being Spencer. She was (still is) an excellent drawer at a young age. We first started talking when I complimented her drawing and she offered to teach me how to draw the same character. After that we were (still are) attached at the hip.
The depression didn’t set in until I got into middle school. It’s been my dream to attend this all girl private school so I took the entrance exam and got accepted. My parents couldn’t afford it, but since I was the baby of the family, they somehow made it happen.
It was just like second grade all over again except this time it was a bit worse. The girls came from rich, white, suburban families and I came from a middle class, inner city family. That kind of created distance between me and the other girls, not to mention the girls grew up with each or went to the same elementary school and back then I was a tomboy and was all into skater shoes while they were into skirts and dresses.I never heard anything rude, but I saw the judgmental stares and how they excluded me a lot. The only thing positive about this year was that my niece was born.
Middle school was when I started to self-harm. I always wore long sleeves or a hoodie to hide the cuts. At the end of the year, my parents have transferred me to a public school that my older sister attended. At that school I heard the insults. The “fat ass”, the “how are you and Brandi related? She’s pretty, you’re not”. I heard it all. The self-harm got worse, but I did make one friend.
Middle school soon became high school and in ninth grade my older sister found out about my self-harming. She told my parents and we sat down and had a talk. There was a lot of crying. After ninth grade I started to focus more on making myself happy, I made more friends and a drift happened between me and my first friend. I believe she didn’t like the idea of me being happy or making new friends, but then again she did have separation issues. She later became clingy, texting my sister or mom to find out where I was or what I was doing. We slowly became distant.
Our friendship was strained, but we still manage to hang out and talk with each other. That was until our junior year that she got a boyfriend. In our junior year, our friendship was only being held together by dental floss. One wrong move and that would end it. I was happy that she found someone and was happy because she deserved it, but our conversations soon became one sided where I had to send multiple messages just for her to send a one word reply. Her boyfriend later inboxed me and told me to stop talking to her. I didn’t listen and kept talking to her.
It wasn’t until the middle of our junior year where our friendship fell apart because of him. He started a fight on Twitter, where I immaturely fought back. He somehow got my friend on his side and she basically told me to never talk to her again. So that’s what I did. I left her and her boyfriend alone and grew closer to my other friends.
I never talked to or about them, but her boyfriend seem to make it his sole purpose to always start trouble with me and it was always over Twitter. Our last fight, he told me to kill myself. But I clearly didn’t listen because I wouldn’t have written this if I did. That didn’t bother me as much as the fact that she told him basically everything I told her. That hurt because I never told anyone any of hers.
But now, I’m happier. Her boyfriend now lives in Florida and they aren’t relevant in my life anymore. I no longer care about what people think about me. I’m no longer scared of wearing certain clothing like dresses, skirts, tanks, and shorts. I reconnect with an old friend and life couldn’t be any better. :)