Community involvement is something that can start small and make a big impact. We have powerful voices and stories that need to be heard. Check out a few stories from youth and about youth making a difference in their community!
My main goal in life has always been to help others. Whether it's my family, community, tribe or even strangers I just want others to have the best life possible and be happy. I believe there are many things we as a tribe and we as people in general can learn from our traditional stories and that's why I've decided to pass them along through books. You can check out the Amazon pages for my books at
I am an Oglala Lakota koskolaka (young man) based off the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. I sing and I write, having released my debut project "tempo" as well as spoken word poetry that capture various aspects of Lakota identity, with love with native women playing a big role and using that core theme in leveling out different topics so prevalent in Indian Country. I do this as I see a desperate need to counteract society's influences in order for my people and other indigenous communities to regain identities properly. I am avidly working towards starting an immersion tipi village, with the intention of bringing back Lakota language, practices, beliefs in a manner that has not been done in a very long time. I see this as a valid initiative as the housing situation currently creates unnatural dissonance between our own people. I just am a Lakota man who dreams for a better society for his Lakota people and Unci Maka (Mother Earth) and hopes many others hop on board with sharing my story so I can be as influential as I dream to be! https://soundcloud.com/wanbliceya is where my music can be heard (:
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. 🙂
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.
Growing up, I was that shy kid who kept to myself and was terrified to speak in front of the class during presentations or to introduce myself. I used to think that I didn't matter or my voice couldn't be heard. But after attending the Futures for Children Youth Leadership Summit in ABQ, New Mexico I learned to break out of my shell, talk more, and find my voice. I had the opportunity to talk with other youth around my age, learn about other cultures besides my own, make new friends, and gain the knowledge on how to become a leader. By listening to the different Native American guest speakers, participating in the workshops, and getting involved, I found that we as native youth did matter, had our own voices, and have the power to make a difference. Seeing all of the problems that go on in my tribe, I want to get my voice heard, along with other youth to help make a change in our communities for the better. If it wasn't for the support and guidance from the staff of the Futures for Children organization, I would probably still be that shy kid who was afraid to get involved and break out of his comfort zone.
-Roger Beyal (Navajo), age 19, is from Brimhall, NM and is passionate about being a voice for Native youth, and teaching others about his culture and traditions.
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.
-Kateri Daw (Navajo), age 18, is from Albuquerque, NM and is passionate about Suicide Prevention.
I really enjoy encouraging others to pursue their dreams and ambitions! I really believe in fighting for what you believe in, no one can tell you that you can't do something! Keep pushing and going till you achieve what you've set your mind to! Over the last Couple of years I have had people tell me, I couldn't go back to school, but I kept fighting and wanting to prove them wrong and January 5, 2017, I will be attending my first semester at Salish-Kootenai College! I have my mind set on becoming the first chair woman of my tribe! Because everything that goes on in my tribe isn't always good so I'd like to go back to my Home Rez and make a difference and become our first chairwoman.
-Saydele Haynes (Colville), age 20, is from Cusick, Washington and is passionate about striving for greatness.
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 Americans.
I don't look like a native. So when I tell people I am Cherokee they act surprised. There were alot of people around me that were negative about it. They would wonder why the culture was important to me if i was "barely" Indian. It was starting to get to me. I thought to myself I am Indian. It was the culture I grew up learning about at home, it inspired my personal style and my outlook on life. When I went into college I changed who I surrounded myself with...people who were positive and liked me for who I was. I started to realize that nobody knew myself better than I did, and in my heart I felt Indian; nobody could take that away from me and no one will. I know my family history and I'm proud of it. I am proud to be a part of a culture and a people that has endured so much. "If you have one drop of Indian blood in you, then you are an Indian." Cheif Black Elk.
-Lacey Bowles (Cherokee), age 22, is from Kansas and is passionate about her animals 🙂
The most revolutionary week of my life, the days I grew the most, was at Standing Rock. I had the chance to watch the grandmothers laugh together, the babies run and play around their tipis, and all of our men sing together at the sacred fire. I felt so proud to be indigenous, and I knew that I would do anything to protect and lead my people when it's time. I learned to love my roots and who I am, and I was blessed to have the ability to learn how to act as an integral part of my community.
-Lexine Salazar Tsalagi (Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma Anikwi Clan), age 18, is from Denver, Colorado and is passionate about being a protector, prayer woman, and young leader for my people.