I would be lost without my culture

Healing Indigenous Lives Youth Submission: Natane Pelkey, Cheyenne and Arapaho

By sharing my experience of getting through hard times and my mental health struggles, I can help other native youth who may be going through similar situations. I was put into the Child Services when I was young. It honestly is a struggle to talk about it even to this day. Growing up without parents can be very hard. Around 9 years old, my sister and I were taken away from our mother in Oklahoma after we moved to escape my father’s abuse in Iowa. We were placed with our grandparents who helped shape who I am today. #NativeYouthVoices

My role model would have to be great grandmother Viola. She was part of the American Indian Movement and even called the founders her brothers. Her AIM family regularly visited on their travels. She is the definition of a tiny but mighty woman. In Oklahoma, she helped youth gain rights to keep their hair long and fought for equal education for native students. I look at her and she helped me realize that no matter how low or soft your voice is, it will be heard if you make it. I know if a pint size woman can be heard abroad in different countries, than anyone can make a change. She showed me that anyone can be a great leader, even tiny and fierce native women.

Learning Resiliency: When I was younger, my parents being gone really messed with my head.  I thought, “wow, I’m growing up without my parents or the people that are suppose to be there for me all the time.”  I eventually stuffed all my emotions away in order to be strong for my sister. As a result, I developed a bad case of anxiety.  I have worked on improving my mental health in the past and then developed trust issues as a result of those efforts. As the years went on without my parents, I learned a lot about myself and learned that I was stronger than I felt. If I can go through all this at a young age, I can get through all the hard times as an adult. As a UNITY leader, I allow myself to be an example of a good mentor by being able to open up and relate to others.

Cultural Prevention: Keeping native youth involved in our cultural will impact how they think and act towards the community and broadens their outlook on life. Our culture has a really strong hold in leadership, which can potentially inspire the way the native youth carry themselves. This is powerful and can help push them to become our future leaders.  It helps open our minds to the possibilities that are out there in the world. I know the program at my tribe has helped lots of kids turn their lives around for the better. For many these cultural programs are a get away place for them, when their home life is bad.

I want to reach out to other native youth and let them know that their home life does not define their future. Only they have that power.

I know without being involved in my culture, I would be lost in this world. I am most proud of overcoming of child abuse. I used to live with my father and he would abuse me whenever he would drink. I really had a hard time accepting the fact that I was angry and felt confused by what he did for a very long time. It took me dancing in pow wows to heal and come to terms with the hurt. I learned that he may have hurt me in the past, but he can not hurt my future at all. When I dance jingle, it heals me and my community.

The top three issue that are a concern in my native community are: not showing up to school, drug abuse, and disregarding authority in school, home, work, or the law. These are things that I have seen that can lead to incarceration or juvenile delinquency, but they are things we can do something about.  By having programs that are related to cultural prevention we could help change someone’s life and keep them out of trouble and out of the system. Many kids have to go home to a bad situation, like physical or verbal abuse. Sometimes we forget we are part of something bigger than ourselves.  In order to revitalize and keep our cultural teachings going, we have to realize what we almost lost. Our culture grounds us and gives our lives meaning when we may feel like we have no direction in life. My culture helped me find my center.

What would you tell a Native Youth who struggles to see themselves as a leader?
I would tell them to try and find the best aspects, qualities, or skills about themselves… to really dig deep into those and not give up, because there is always a way to be a leader, even if its just for your siblings or a small deed. Every action for good matters.

For example, I think being able to communicate effectively is one of my strongest qualities. I’m use to talking to anyone no matter their back ground. I love learning about others, building friendships or just trying to be a role model for those who do not have one. As the Arapaho Tribal princess, I loved being able to speak to crowds and connect to others and really engage with my audience and peers.  I found my leadership in my gifts.

Being able to dance the contemporary jingle dress style has really taught me a lot. I started dancing at the age of 4 years old. I look up to my aunt and cousin who really pushed me and taught me to dance. I chose to dance because I saw my older cousin and I wanted to be like her. I find it ironic that I didn’t learn the power that the jingle dress dance holds until I was 10 years old, because that’s when I needed it most. The teaching came to me when my life was changing a lot. The jingle dress really does heal in its own way. I learned that if you take care of every dress you have, they will take care of you and those that are important in your life.