I Strengthen My Nation

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), in partnership with We R Native, is hosting 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!

Six participants received awards during the first review period in July. The remaining entries were received after the first round review date, and will be considered during the next review in December.

Want to enter yourself? Go here!

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.
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  
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.
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.  
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”.  
Keeli, Warmsprings, Age 16, Oregon

Bright Passion

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  

Why people of most of the western countries hate indians?

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