Heritage and Hope
By Rep. Kristi Noem
October 30, 2015
A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to visit with a number of young people on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Their stories about the epidemic of suicide by young people in the community were absolutely heartbreaking. They spoke about how they felt they had no hope. In their eyes, you could see an overwhelming sadness and grief. They told me stories about friends and loved ones who had taken their own lives – and some explained they had tried to do the same. It was an experience that will stay with me for the rest of my life.
Lakota Instructions for Living teaches that “the hurt of one is the hurt of all. And the honor of one is the honor of all.” I felt the hurt of these young people that day. I felt the hurt of a community whose spirit has been bent, although not broken.
I recognize there are no words to wipe away the pain these kids have had to experience, but I’m committed to working with these young people and tribal leaders to pave a more hopeful future for them.
In the coming months, I will be closely collaborating with tribal leaders to make sure the programs and grants in use today are working. If we find there are ways to improve them, I’m dedicated to doing that. If there are better options out there, I’m devoted to pursuing them.
I will also be looking at opportunities to make more after-school and job-training programs available to Native American youth. Shortly after visiting Pine Ridge, I spent time at the Rosebud Boys and Girls Club in Mission. The after-school program they had implemented impressed me. It gave the kids access to tutors and had activities to keep them busy. It was an incredible sight to see and you could tell instantly what the club meant to these young people. We need more programs like that.
As we celebrate Native American Heritage Month this November, I will be very focused on helping Native American young people find continued inspiration from their heritage and a new hope for the future. I am truly honored to be a part of this effort and I look forward to watching these young men and women live out their proud heritage here in South Dakota.
PHOTO: Noem reads to class at Red Cloud Indian School in Pine Ridge (October 2015)