I Strengthen My Nation

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), in partnership with We R Native, hosted two challenge competitions to recognize and draw upon the inherent strengths and resiliencies of Indigenous people and culture that protect against substance misuse. Check out these amazing entries!

Keeli, Warmsprings, Age 25, Oregon

The way beadwork can ascend an indigenous person is powerful. From the historical nature of cultural preservation to the extra element of style and fashion, beadwork can uplift and bring forth identity and overall expression. Personalized, the concept that no two pieces are alike leaves room for the most versatile form of Indigenous heritage. A handmade artform, a labor of love, and a reflection of the inner workings of each individual. I have had the honor of learning young in making my own accessories to accompany me on the dance floor. I am proud and have built wonderful connections with peers from all walks of life.

I myself had struggles in life and the art of beadwork has kept me grounded, secure, and focused. I know having the ability to inspire others to combat the many trials and tribulations of life. Resilience and beadwork go hand in hand, having a healthy and positive outlet from trauma, helping heal and process. Any lost individual that can take something from my work is a goal met. If I can help alleviate pain, longing, sadness. If I can inspire progress, compassion, love and community in my pieces, then I have accomplished the tradition of resilience.

Bridgette and Dove #2

Sagey the Bear

Sagey is a parody of Smokey the bear; and instead of telling you to take care of the land he’s telling you to take care of yourself because you’re part of the land.
Bridgette and Dove #1

Heal and Elevate

Rae, United Houma Nation, Age 25, Louisiana

River Delta Resilience

Aletu! I'm from the United Houma Nation in southeast Louisiana. This piece is set in the delta I live in and strives to connect the past to the present. Two girls camp among the cypress and live oak trees near the river, watching the stars and fireflies. One is in a traditional palmetto hut, and the other is in a modern tent. A mound garden is growing behind them, and in front a young persimmon tree is fruiting. A white alligator swims in the front. All of the plants represented have important medicinal and/or cultural uses. Throughout my life and in work I do with Native youth, I find that connections with our history and cultural activities provide a source of resilience, practices and knowledge to fall back on in times of trouble or in preparing for our future. I find I'm happiest when I'm out in nature, whether it's hiking trails through the forest, listening to stories around a campfire, climbing the branches of a live oak tree, learning how to plant a traditional food forest and garden, or harvesting medicinal and food plants. These things have given me a healthy outlet during hard times, rather than turning to substance abuse. I tried to depict these many different things in my work.
Alyssa, Catawba Indian, Age 20, North Carolina

New Life

Generations of my family have called the Catawba Indian reservation home. I have seen first hand the problems and suffering substance abuse has caused to the people and family that live on the reservation, but I have also seen the resilience and ability to overcome these addictions. My artwork depicts the resilience these people have and how they are able to grow from their troubled past and make a new life for themselves.
Michaela, Mohawk Nation, Age 15, New York

Threaded Tree of Peace

Indigenous communities have suffered from substance abuse for many generations, some involving just alcohol or as far as drugs. Much of these addictions stem from the feeling of loneliness and feeling like you don’t belong at a young age. Something that helps prevent these feelings and these bad decisions down the line is embracing who you are, both culturally and physically.

The tree in my art is the “tree of peace” which represents peace between the Haudenosaunee people. The tree of peace was a white pine tree chosen by the peacemaker which symbolizes unity of the 5 nations, the mohawk, Seneca, Cayuga, Onondaga, and Oneida.  Each part of the tree represents or symbolizes an important element of unity in the confederacy. For example, the pine needles of the tree grow in bundles of 5 representing the unity of the 5 nations and the roots grow the 4 directions (north, west, south, east) which represent the paths for our future brothers and sisters. On the other hand, the tree also was a symbol of solitude among chiefs and allowed these chiefs to never “die”, their stories and titles would be passed down to future generations forever.

My artwork represents peace and indigenous communities coming together to become stronger to prevent substance abuse in future generations. The thread in my piece represents communities coming together to form something strong and beautiful. Not only does the symbol itself show the tree of peace but it also shares some of its meaning, for example, The roots represent the paths for future brothers and sisters just like how the tree of peace does. Our ancestors laid out these paths for us to keep peace and culture going. My artwork not only symbolizes coming together, forming something beautiful, but it symbolizes carrying on what our ancestors wanted which was for us to sustain the peace they built in our communities and using it as an advantage to make better decisions like preventing substance abuse.

Substance abuse is a problem for most that can’t be resolved easily, for our indigenous communities it is easier to resolve. Our communities not only have amazing culture but also have amazing diversity to make everyone feel involved and like they belong. us embracing ourselves culturally and physically can prevent bad decisions like substance abuse down the line.

Sierra, Ponca/Omaha, Age 17, Nebraska

Digital Landscape

As an urban Native, with deceased parents and grandparents, I use my phone to connect with my extended family in Oklahoma, Nebraska, and Ohio. With technology I am no longer the lone Native in my physical world. I can learn about my culture, traditions, and meet other Natives like me. Alcohol addition ruined many of my relatives lives, and took my mother’s life. When I am in a dark place and feel isolated I can digitally connect with others to remind myself that I am not alone and I come from a long line of warriors. I see technology as a digital landscape that can create a sacred space for Native people to gather. This landscape is represented in my drawing. In my drawing I used a filter on the phone screen to represent the beauty that exists even during the darkest times. The phone represents our ability to create a community with technology. We thrive through our gatherings. The digital landscape allowed us to stay connected during covid through Zoom and groups like the Social Distance Powwow. The digital landscape helps us share our issues and process our grief. Native people joined together to fight for our existence through movements like #EveryChildMatters, #MMIW, #IdleNoMore, and #No-DAPL. I represent these movements on the iPhone case. The jingle dress dancer is a universal figure for healing, strength, resilience, and connection. The Digital Age created an Indigenous landscape that united our people and eliminated borders. Technology helps create communities to share our culture and reclaim our identity. The digital landscape provides a way to connect, learn, reduce our isolation, and express ourselves. The government separated Indigenous people through international borders, reservations, boarding schools, and relocation. The digital age allows us to reconnect. Social media and technology helps connect Native people from all generations and geographic locations to share our stories, causes, culture, traditions, grief, and talents. We can dance for healing, fight racism, and make our voices heard.
Isabella, Northern Ponca, Age 15, Nebraska

Daily Struggle

Noah, Crow, Age 21, Wisconsin

Beginning Alone

My name is Noah Singer, I am part of the crow nation in Montana, I am from Wisconsin but my dads side of the family is living out in Montana on reservation land. I go out there at least twice a year to visit and stay connected to the community and culture. My original photograph was taken in Pewaukee Wisconsin on a rainy night recently, while taking the picture, substance abuse wasn’t in my mind, but as time went on I thought about how people I know who are both young and old struggle with abuse, and a lot of people that I have talked to say that they feel alone when going through the abuse, even if they really aren’t. Here I captured a dark, empty and almost unreal setting that people who struggle with substance abuse explain how they feel. When I imagine what they feel I picture someone walking alone in a setting like this, surrounded by anxiety and the unknown because they cannot see further. This also has another story to it. I believe that this can represent someone who is putting substances behind them and starting clean, for someone who is used to the high and comfort of a foreign substance, letting go is scary and it feels like you are alone when really it is just the beginning, and soon the rainy, cold dark night will turn into day and that rough patch will be behind you. Walking alone is scary, people who struggle might feel alone even when they really aren’t, which is why we need to understand that we must take the time to be there and help our communities that struggle to be there and help, even in the darkest of times.
Geri, Oglala Lakota/Jicarilla Apache/Santa Clara Pueblo, Age 20, Colorado

Oyúškeya Únpi

Throughout my life I had been trying to figure out who I was. My parents always told me that we were indigenous, but I didn't want to be a part of it. I am now reconnecting and gaining more and more knowledge about my heritage. Family members I had, died from substance misuse and it really impacted me. So when I was 13 I had created a program called SASI (Sweet and Sober Individual) to try and promote a healthy lifestyle in the community. Now, I create art to show problems we as a community go through. In this piece, I have the red handprints for MMIW. This is a huge problem in AI/AN culture, especially with those who use alcohol and drugs. The dancer represents our culture and how we can reconnect and the animals represent freedom.
Faith, Inupiaq/Tlingit/Sugpiaq, Age 25, Washington


I believe that our homes and our connection to our lands and culture will break us from our toxic cycles we continue to make today. A lot of us struggle with homelessness and displacement a lot of my own grandpa's and grandmas struggled like that and never got help and ended up dying never knowing where they come from or who their people are. I wanna show us the beauty of our people when we don't have to worry about homelessness or don't have to worry about somebody telling us to not pray. One day I hope this is the future.
Jonathan, Lower Elwha Klallam, Age 22, Washington

A Commitment to Current and Future Generations

I strengthen my nation by being a humble servant to Native youth and Indian Country. By being a humble servant, I serve as Co-Vice President of the National Congress of American Indians Youth Commission and Secretary/Northwest Regional Representative to the United National Indian Tribal Youth, Inc. Executive Committee — advocating for our youth on a local, regional, national, and international level. As the original stewards and owners of these lands, we have a multi-generational, ancestral duty to take care of our land and our people. This multi-generational, ancestral duty has been passed down, generation-to-generation. We, the Native young leaders of today, have inherited immense and vital duty — it is up to us to pass down that baton of leadership just as our mentors did for us. It is time to bridge the disconnect between tribal leadership and Native youth leadership to work in a unified effort to assure the health, safety, and prosperity of our people and future generations.
Jaylynn, Chickasaw, Age 24, Oklahoma


Ashley, Bishop Paiute, Age 14, California


I strengthen my nation by giving of my time and volunteering at our tribal community events, as Jr. Miss Pabanamanina 2019/2021 I feel it is important to set a good example and represent my title well. I am also a member of the Bishop Tribal Youth Council a UNITY affiliated youth council I serve as the secretary and I believe as a youth leader we need to be involved and live a good clean lifestyle. I enjoy basketball and softball and going to powwows my dance style is Jingle. I will continue to work hard to show youth to be a active and involved our representation matters.
Bishop Tribal Youth Council
We (The Bishop Tribal Youth Council) strengthen our nation by being involved in our community and participating in various activities and workshops to keep our youth leaders on a good path. We remind our youth that our involvement is important to our community and we show pride in our people by being present at all of the available activities. Download and watch our video!
Kiara, Kuupangaxwichem/Northern Ute, Age 19, California

Our Future, In Our Hands

My whole life growing up revolved around the Powwow arena, it was the only lifestyle I knew. I’ve been dancing since I was able to walk, and traveling from powwow to powwow at a very young age. Across Indian Country I have met and became close with so many different people and have been taught many great things. I’ve been inspired by many to constantly expand my knowledge and try to absorb as much as I can from a very young age. This has brought out the creative side of me. I began painting at a young age, and stopped for many years. I couldn’t find motivation or inspiration, that’s when i started painting what I know best, which is the powwow scene. As soon as I started to create art from past memories, it sparked a light in me. This particular piece was inspired by a good lifelong family friend, Moontee Sinquah, a world champion hoop dancer. I have known Moontee for as long as I could remember and the only energy I have every received from him was strictly positive and happy energy. In this piece, the emotional depiction is very strong and resilient. When I look at my piece I visualize someone who has been able to overcome obstacles and battles within themselves. I believe the piece is a powerful depiction of how our youth can chose the path of knowledge in culture and power over drugs and pain, along with generational patterns of abuse of drugs and alcohol. Our people deserve better and will always deserve to not have to face battles like this, but we do and it’s the reality of what our people have to deal with. It’s having great people to look up to and help lead you to the right path through encouragement and leadership. Through our cultural practices and traditional ways, we can overcome many battles within ourselves and the outside world. It’s up to us though if we want to take that path, but the help of amazing others is always a help.  
Caitlin, Navajo, Age 21, Arizona


For my drawing class, we had to incorporate various elements into one big drawing. I decided to focus on my culture which makes up who I am as an individual. I find so much beauty within my culture and traditions, so I included a hogan, a navajo wedding basket and myself. Indigenous people are given the wrong stereotype that we are alcoholics or drug addicts. Without colonization, we would be prospering amongst ourselves and embracing our beautiful cultures. This piece embraces the beauty I see within our identity as a Dinè woman.    
Makayla, Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe, Age 16, Michigan

I Am Resilient

Hello, My name is Makayla Stevens and I am part of the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe, I am 16 years old and I am entering this amazing contest in hopes of showing not only local native youth but youth over the world that there are so many amazing opportunities they can receive and participate in that don't involve drugs. Growing up in this small native community has taught me so much about the negative effects of using drugs, the drug epidemic has taken a huge toll with in my own community, It's about once a week we hear about a young person passing away from an overdose, the age seems like it keeps getting younger and younger. I personally feel I have a tie to the drug epidemic and how it affects families: when I was younger my biological family regularly used drugs which caused behavior changes and alot of abuse and neglect, this had went on for years to the point where my two younger siblings and I were put up for adoption, that was very hard for me to get over, but luckily a my sisters and I were adopted by a lovely family where I have some pretty amazing opportunities, words can never express how grateful I am for my family, they don't use drugs, and they join our community in trying to lower drug rates, not going to lie being adopted has its negative effects but it also has created this strength inside me that keeps me seeking for opportunities and not turning to drugs. I think that my fine arts keeps me from wanting to turn to drugs. When I sing and when I create I feel this sense of peace and I think there are so many other opportunities people can enjoy when they are not actively using drugs. I hope my piece of art can reach many, but if it just reaches one person, I would make me so happy. I feel that I have a great connection within my knowledge of Native American culture, I am an Indigenous dance teacher, and I currently for the past year have held a job at “The Ziibiwing Cultural Center'' where I teach and instruct about the Native American culture, I teach all types of age groups including college aged as well as kindergarten. This job has been such a blessing and it taught me so much about my culture and my connection to indigenous arts. I feel that if my piece of art can be showcased it will show other native youth what they can achieve I hope to be a leader and someone to look up to with in out native youth. To be a part of this amazing opportunity means so much to me, this year has been a lot of students and small incentives really help a lot. Thank you once again for the opportunity, I hope you guys love my art as much as I do, I also hope that my story can be shown to other native youth and hopefully encourage resilience as well as that indigenous strength.  
Jade, Picuris Pueblo, Age 17, New Mexico

Another One Through

It comes in pings of pain, in aches of fury and dislodged thought. It’s a breeze, through violent banters of sweet corn and beans. With muddy tears and soggy soil. I walk. Many days I softly whine, My feet hurt. I don’t see any path. But most days I never catch a breather, only a shout of empty air with no further remarks. It continues, through the thickened weeds of thorns sparking my bare soles with sharp whispers of slurred excuses and hollow apologies. The ground almost ‘tsks’, “Bad Livers.” “Bruised Skin.” I have to step over, past the detritus of lumpen hearts, foreign, forgotten. It all seems so foolish, there’s no real end in sight. But I continue, soon, and soon, and soon. Through the silent stares of beautiful flowers too far to touch. Through the blades of broken bottles and needle points. Through to the last of my endeavors, a cliff. As if I couldn’t be more inconvenienced, with my battered bones, dirty skin, and achy feet. It presents a question: Should you? Inside, I thought, I’ve been walking for years, with no different outcome. Who am I to my father? What have I become to cope? I’m alone, I- Silence. A hum of a sweet tune, quiet and distant. I see a chocolate eyed woman, a grandmother, perhaps. And I run. I run, and I run, and I run, so fast. Far from the gripping shadows of my journey, far from the acrid smell of laundry nights, and straight into the palms of hers. Her safety, her warmth. So warm. So comfy. So nice. Till I can’t hold back my tears, I’m so thankful. “You made it, my dear.” She whispers lovingly, it’s over. We look back to the cliff, where I notice now I’m at the other side. Far into the darkness we hear howling souls. Lost people, my ancestors, my family. But yet another one has come through. Hello, my name is Jade Rael and I’m from Picuris Pueblo. For six years now, I’ve been attending the Santa Fe Indian School (SFIS), where I’ve lived, eaten, and cried with many indigenous people from various communities. As an urban native born in Las Vegas, Nevada, it was almost a culture shock being entirely enveloped into indigenous culture after missing it for the first six years of my life. But through my roommates from Santa Clara, my suitemates from Santo Domingo, and my best friend from the Apache lands, I learned what other indigenous people valued and became closely integrated with all the colors of each tribe. It was beautiful, learning how to make pottery through the hands of a San Ildefonso woman, laughing with the songs of a Navajo classmate, and feeling connected again to my own tribe of Picuris. The SFIS takes culture into heart and values love and learning into the campus through the blessed dorms, to the traditional dances on SFIS’s feast day. I stepped inside of the campus borders unknowing much of my culture, afraid of my own ignorance, and slightly excited for the new experiences to come. And when I step out into the world. I’ll be well informed of the tragedies that plague our histories, the need our communities have for our youth, and the importance my future degree holds not only to me, but my people and all indigenous people. As an artist, art is my weapon towards education. I seek to inform indigenous communities and those who gawk at us outside, to create meaning in our lives and demonstrate action for change. I first started this my freshman year, where I began collecting data on historical trauma and the mental health of native students. Four years later, I’ve finished my Senior’s Honors Project, where I hoped to stimulate questions with my SFIS and pueblo community. This will be the first of many to come, and as you might know now from the SHP, I’ve suffered greatly in the hands of substance misuse through my parents. This piece is the walk I took from those harsh years to the point where I am now. It is my resiliency throughout the years, and it comes from the blood of my ancestors who’ve taken similar walks through hard, difficult times. As natural born runners, as persistence hunters, and as indigenous people, we’ve crossed many avenues of choice and made it. We persevere as a people, one by one, in our own challenges and experiences. It is our value of community, and the rejoice that comes when we meet another on the other side that bonds us. My experience is shared in hopes that another young person facing intense difficulty understands we’re rooting for them behind the leaves of the forest. Tucked in the sky our family prays they’ll see us overcome our demons. In my journey, I present to you, “Another One Through”.  
Darvin, Navajo, Arizona
I drew this thinking of where I came from, seeing all the traditional dancers and from different stories I heard from different elders. It motivated me in some of my roughest times in my sobriety.
Cheyenne, Swinomish, Age 20, Washington

The beauty of Life

The beauty of life Bringing my anxiety to light All the hurt all the pain drugs and alcohol drive me insane Meditation with eagles up in the mountains Sovereign nation sobriety Changing our image Letting the white man see that Drugs and alcohol can’t take the native path from me Say no to drugs and find the beauty in your life soar with the eagles and follow the steps of our ancestors out of the past and in to the future  
Keeli, Warmsprings, Age 16, Oregon

Bright Passion

Cierra, Gros Ventre, Age 18, Montana

Resting Easy

Hello, my name is Cierra Blackbird Fuzesy. I am an enrolled member of the Gros Ventre tribe located in North Eastern, Montana on the Fort Belknap Reservation. My artwork reflects how bright and wonderful life can be when you have the strength to not abuse substances. With a family who has a history of substance abuse, I have painted to what it feels like, to me, to know what it is like to not have to rely on substances to make my life “better”.  
Cheyenne, Swinomish, Age 20, Washington

Say No and Walk the Path of Our Ancestors

Follow the path our ancestors back to the water where we fish and where our ancestors worshipped the water for it has significant meaning to all. We all run back to the water because walking on the beach, fishing or simply canoeing and reflecting. Look at your reflection in the water remember who you are or better yet who you have the ability to become. A role model for future generations and this generation preventing us from drug and alcohol consumption and I believe that we can all remain sober and sing the songs worshipping our ancestors as they have given promise that we will grow and become a beautiful tribe proving ourselves every day sobriety is beautiful and smart.  
Nikko, Chickamauga Cherokee, Age 19, Washington

Power of Knowing

Here is the link to my video submission of a short movement piece! Hello, I'm Chickamauga Cherokee and I've been involved with the Indigenous community in the greater Seattle area since I was a kid. I want my art piece to highlight the important of educating young people about substances to help them not misuse them rather than scaring youth into staying away from them.
John-David, Navajo, Age 16, Oregon

Don't Go to the Dark Side

My name is JD LittleHawk Berglund. I just turn 16 this year. I am proud to say I am Dine and Irish. I love who I am. I love my mom and dad, I have an older sister name Taylor who is like my second mom. My quick story: my best friend Jordan entered the spirit world back in October 2020 at that time I had to grow up quick to try to understand this process. Instead of holding on to my anger, staying quiet about my feelings, I asked for help. I still connect with my Mental Health counseling and my counselor is an American Native from WA state. I attend weekly youth nights at NARA, Future Generations, and I always look forward to Thrive Conferences. These groups are where I acknowledge more indigenous cultural teachings and the connections we all have like learning our languages, being aware of our Historical past, learning from our elders, supporting each other by learning how to bead, painting and I just found out I am actually good a poetry. who knew, but I took a healthy risk and found out. Without these youth support groups and connections I wouldn't recognize my own resilience and how strong I actually am. My goal is to understand stories told from our elders, working as a one Indigenous community in my urban area, to be there for the next generation like my uncles did when I cried for help. Connecting to our American Indian cultural is very important for me and for the youth today as we are the voice for the next generation. I learned I surrounded myself with positive, caring and supportive family and friends. Bringing back the old teachings and for me knowing I am strong enough to say No to any Substance misuse. I try my best to bring in one friend at a time to one of my Indigenous youth groups because maybe they will bring another friend or sibling. Our fight currently is to show our actions to not taking any substance because that is not within our culture. I asked my sister to draw for me. Taylor's (thunderbird) symbol is by the picture. thanks sis. love you. the art: substance misuse rots your heart and soul and the person is learning the awareness as this person is dancing into the direction of their cultural teachings. JD LittleHawk  

Dear Auntie, I’m Apache but I would like to know what tribe my ancestor is from

Find Us

Follow Us

Enter Phone Number to Subscribe:

Msg & Data Rates May Apply.
Text STOP to opt out. No purchase necessary.
Expect 4 msgs/mo.Terms and Conditions