Courtesy Jeri Redcorn/Facebook
These girls won first place for their Caddo language song in the 6th to 8th grade group at the Oklahoma Native American Youth Language Fair a couple years ago. The fair is a good way for Native youth to connect with their culture.

10 Ways Native Youth Can Learn About Their Culture

Vincent Schilling

Considering traditions, language and ceremony have been passed down for many generations in many tribes, there is a lot to learn in the way of culture. To young people today, there may be a bit of a disconnect in terms of learning about the traditions of our ancestors—or maybe they don’t have a clear idea of how to go about learning traditional ways.

In an attempt to help bridge this gap, here are 10 ways young people (or anyone wanting to learn more about their own tribe) can go about learning, connecting and practicing the ways of their own Indian culture.

Start Learning Your language

The first step to bridging the gap between young people and their ancestors is by speaking the language that was spoken by their tribe before the arrival of settlers. English is considered to be one of the least expressive languages and native languages have a depth of meaning that can serve as a true connection to your heritage.

Start a Native Group or Club at School

This is not as hard as it seems, but going to your school’s office and asking if you can have permission to meet once a week after school or during lunch is the first step to meeting other Native students. In such a group, you can invite elders to speak, share stories and even learn about other tribes. Use your imagination.

Speak to a Tribal Official

By meeting with a tribal chief, chairman, president or tribal council member, you can learn about how your tribe deals with day-to-day business. You can learn about the importance of politics, or how your tribe deals with handling of the issues, needs, problems and assets of your people. Perhaps you can learn ways to contribute or volunteer.

Visit With an Elder

Never underestimate the incredible power of a conversation with an elder. Ask questions and take the time to listen with an open heart. Ask them to tell you stories and/or ask them about the traditions of your tribe. By showing interest you are stepping up as a young warrior.

Cherokee Elder Joe Fourkiller shares some stories from his childhood. (Cherokee Nation)

RELATED: Video: Cherokee Elder Joe Fourkiller Recalls His Childhood

Share Your Culture

Even if you are not fully informed about your own culture and traditions, offering to share your culture with another group or school will influence you to ask questions and learn more about yourself. You would be creating a win-win situation for everyone involved.

Meet With the Tribal Historian

Some tribes have a tribal historian on staff whose job it is to ensure that tribal history, culture and traditions will continue to be shared with the generations to come. Meet with them, ask them questions—and if you start a club or group at school—ask them to visit with the group. If you don’t have a historian, ask around and find a knowledgeable elder, they often enjoy sharing stories.

Join a Social Media Group

There are a number of groups on social media focused on Native culture. You could even create a group focused on learning about your tribe’s culture. Invite elders to join and swap knowledge. While you show an elder how to use Facebook, Google+, Twitter or other forms of social media, the elders can teach you about your culture—another win-win for bridging the generation gap.

Make a YouTube Video

Much like when you are preparing to talk to a class—when preparing to put something on YouTube—you have to learn in order to share a message. Here is another way to learn and create at the same time while sharing the message with others. Use lessons taught by your elders to create the video.

Learn About Shared History

A lot can be learned from not just your tribe’s history, but how your tribe and ancestors were seen by other tribes. Again, ask questions and take time to listen and learn.

Ask to Take Part In Ceremony

If it is appropriate ask an elder, or the right person in your tribe, if you can take part in an upcoming ceremony. Every tribe is a bit different in the approach, so this is a great opportunity to learn about practicing the traditions and ceremonies of your ancestors.

Do have additional ideas? Reach out to ICTMN correspondent Vincent Schilling on Twitter.

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