On the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota, the Lakota Indian youth population is taking the well-being of its community into their own hands.
And they have a lot on their agenda — suicide, homelessness, domestic violence, teen pregnancy, dropout rates and gang activity, all of which have been rising at alarming rates. In 2008, ChildFund International, the local university Sinte Gleska and community partner Oyate Networking opened the St. Francis Youth Center to help combat these problems.
St. Francis is used as a “Safe House” for children and youth of all ages to complete homework, visit with peers or just relax in a positive environment.
For teens on the reservation, their aspirations and goals for the community exceed well beyond the four walls of the center.
About 30 youth between the ages of 12 and 17 joined to create the Sicangu Oyate Teca Youth Council. Their focus is on cultural restoration of traditional Lakota values that embody generosity, wisdom and courage — and adopting those values as positive way of life for their families. The council is also championing leadership skill development, youth-led constructive activities and suicide prevention education.
ChildFund is guiding youth on how to create project plans and budgets, seek external funding, publicize activities and monitor and evaluate the success of their projects.
These youth-led activities provide an alternative to high-risk behaviors and promote healthy habits, cultural and self-expression, educational enhancement, physical fitness and service to the community.