Wesley Roach, Lakota

#DearNativeYouth: It Gets Greater Later

Gyasi Ross

#DearNativeYouth: Hold us accountable.”

Brook Spotted Eagle

Dear young sister and brothers, nieces and nephews,

Yes, I’m truly hoping you read this—I definitely don’t claim to have all the answers, but this short letter is to let you know that a whole bunch of people are here for you.

I’ve met a lot of you. I’ve hugged a lot of you, spoken to a lot of you and listened to a lot of you. Thank you for sharing yourselves and giving of yourselves; the greatest part of my job is staying in contact with you young folks and when you tell me over the years of your successes, marriages, growing families, graduations. Growing up is exciting, scary and powerful.

RELATED: A Note to Beloved Native Graduates: Keep Up the Great Work (and Always Remember Home)

It literally is what life is about. Evolution.

That’s what I want to talk to you about: growing up. Honestly, growing up Native is sometimes really hard, because sometimes it seems like not many people understand our ways or sometimes because it seems like there’s only a few of us. Sometimes it seems like our communities are very poor and that there really aren’t any options like in the rest of the world. Those of us who grew up within our communities knows what it’s like to sometimes feel trapped even amongst all the beauty and culture at home.

Those thoughts aren’t wrong and you’re not wrong for thinking them. Please don’t ever think that. Sometimes being Native really is hard! It’s true! But it’s not only hard—it’s so many other things too. Being Native is beautiful, hard, amazing and painful at the same time.

Being Native is complex.

See, being Native is also a privilege, an incredible honor. Being Native literally means that you were one of a few chosen to carry on a way of life and a gene pool that is one of the most resilient in the world! You were chosen. The reason why that is so special is because that way of life and that gene pool were nearly wiped out some time ago; your ancestors, somehow (I honestly have no clue how), were able to forge incredible strength despite seemingly everybody and everything working toward their destruction. Disease, European settlers, Manifest Destiny, greed, stealing Native children, killing food supplies—these were total war tactics that people do when they hate someone and are trying to exterminate those people.

Yet somehow your ancestors made it through. They didn’t always know they were going to survive—in fact, many times they thought that all Indian people were about to die off. Why wouldn’t they? It was a logical conclusion. Yet, despite believing that death was imminent, that destruction was imminent, that all hope was lost and that there was nothing they could do about it…they did something about it. They did anything they could to survive. Anything. They knew if they just stuck around long enough, just survived somehow, things would get greater later.

They prayed, they fought, they killed, they did ceremonies, they Ghost Danced, they Sun Danced, they went to church, they loved, they loved deeply, they were afraid, they took slaves, they went to school, some acted like white people and assimilated, some acted like Indians and went DEEP into the woods and hid, some acted … they believed, they sacrificed, they gave their babies up to the enemy—like Moses in the Bible—knowing that it was better for their babies to survive even with white values than for their people to go extinct with Native values. Anything for survival. Anything.

“Our people must go on. Our children must have a future. By any means necessary.”

I tell you that to say that being Native has always been hard. What you face right now, little sister or brother, is nothing new. Our ancestors—your powerful grandparents and great grandparents and great GREAT grandparents—had it very very hard. But they knew ABOVE ALL…they had to survive somehow.

You inherited that. That strength. That desperation. That love of your community, where you would be willing to do anything to ensure future generations. That faith that somehow the Creator would reward your diligence and keep your people despite incredibly hard circumstances. Being Native is hard.

But there’s literally nothing more rewarding—carrying on a way of life and a gene pool that has twenty thousand years of spirits and ancestors watching over it. You carry that legacy—no one else can say that in this Nation. In that way, you’re incredibly special. You are survivors. Just like your ancestors who put carrying on that way of life and gene pool above everything.

Sometimes that hardness of being Native will make you feel overwhelmed. Sometimes that complexity of being Native will make you want to just give up. It’s still complex, it’s still hard—there are still people within this land who do not like Natives and never will. There are still people within this land who think that you cannot do anything you want because you are Native and will try to convince you of that. Sometimes it will feel like the walls are closing in and you are all alone.

You are not. Of course there are literally millions of us who believe in you, know that you’re the chosen generation. But it’s not only us—your superpower is all those beloved, desperate, loving, faithful and resilient ancestors who somehow survived are pulling for you. They literally stayed alive JUST for you, for the possibility that you might have life and opportunity and hope—everything that they did not have. Being Native was complex and hard for them too, but you made it worth it, you are the culmination of dreams and the reason that they just COULDN’T give up.

They just couldn’t. You provided hope that it would get greater later.

We love you. If you ever need to talk, talk to us—make us be accountable to you. Hold us to our words; Native leaders oftentimes say that they are working for the youth, the next generation; hold us to that. Make them prove what they say—don’t let us off the hook. Demand that we be there for you.

We need you; you need us. We need each other.

Love y’all.


Gyasi Ross, Editor at Large
Blackfeet Nation/Suquamish Territories
Twitter: @BigIndianGyasi

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chris.lyons's picture
Submitted by chris.lyons on
The Native American culture must not only go on, it needs to prosper more rapidly through acclimation's and adjustments to reach a heightened state of congruency to the present day world, while still maintaining balance with your heritage.

talyn's picture
Submitted by talyn on
@ chris.lyons. I wanted to make some smart, funny, cutting remark to point out that your comment was rather patronizing, filled with a sort of structural and cultural racism you seem blind to, but every snappy comeback that popped to mind was really not nice. But saying that Native American culture must 'acclimate' so as to 'prosper' in the society that has made a centuries long and concerted effort to eradicate those self-same cultures reads an awful lot like 'you need to get over it', and yet one more person who thinks assimilation is the answer. This is likely not what you thought you meant, and perhaps not what everyone will see. But I just wanted to let you know that for me, your instruction to 'reach a heightened state of congruency to the present day world' inspired an urge to say fairly rude things in response.

tasunke.nagi's picture
Submitted by tasunke.nagi on
Wopila! these words are empowering to a young warrior such as myself trying to keep the balance forward and make the very best of this life set before us by our ancestors. Today living life on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation is very much of what you describe, these ways are very limited with only like we have been told "A last of a dying breed" and I try to not see that in my lifetime. Our Language is our Identity as Oglala Lakota and there is only but a handful and hope is limited, so thanks again for uplifting my Spirit to keep on.. Wopila! #OglalaLakota