By Whitney Sawney
The question that gets asked the most often by policymakers is, “How do we understand Native Youth?” Unfortunately, our generation is faced with disheartening realities, like depression, addiction and high suicide rates. There seems to be a never-ending report of negative statistics, where Native youth are perceived to be just another number. The concept that is being ignored the most is that each of our stories is unique. Depression or addictions are not things you can lump into one category; it’s more complex than that. So, in my opinion, there is NO FORMULA for understanding or quantifying our life experiences.
What is important to understand is that this generation is changing the perspective. We are the millennial generation, and we have our own plan in mind for the future. We are taking ownership of our stories, each and every one of them unique. It’s not about competition anymore; instead our peers inspire us. We want to celebrate our successes together, not compare our outcomes with the outcomes of others. We are our own generation, working together and intertwining our experiences to create a stronger future not so that the future generation simply follows in our footsteps; but so that we create a more accepting society that celebrates the next generation for forging their own path. We are no longer just another statistic. We are courageously speaking up and sharing our hearts with you.
I am one of those youth asking you to hear me. I have had my own experience with depression. I’ve had every opportunity taken away from me, having to restart from scratch. I’ve had to experience picking myself up and being knocked back down again and again. It was not until I surrounded myself with other Native youth that I began to experience comfort and confidence. The thing that gives me the most pride is to be able to say, “My name is Whitney Sawney. I have struggled through years of depression, but I have made it through. I am proud to be Native American, and this year I will be walking to receive my college diploma.”
This is my request to you, the decision makers. Provide us with opportunities to connect, experience new places, learn new things, and meet new people who can relate to our past and share similar goals for the future. Help us by giving us experiences that provide us with strength and courage. Help us by first challenging the barriers, the ignorance, the football team – that prevent us from taking pride in who we are. Help us by supporting our desire to share our culture through a united front.
We are our own generation, we are changing the perspective, and we are taking ownership of our identity. Let’s move forward side-by-side, not one in front of the other.