How we Know we are Significant
Let me share an event from my youth which captures the spirit of significance and belonging. My parents were traditional Lakota people and typically would not go anywhere without their children. The first time I was ever going to be away from my parents was when I was 17 years old. To this day I do not know where I got this idea, but I asked my parents, since I was about to go into grade eleven, if I could go to a boys’ military school. They said they did not know anything about them but I should apply and see what happened. So I applied to three military schools out east and was accepted at all three. I picked one, and that fall my parents drove me out to it with a carload of possessions. I had my new blue-grey West Point-type uniforms. We had to buy our own textbooks, so I had ordered boxes of these. We also used to have these round flat things called records, and I brought along my collection and record player. I wore my uniforms and marched around at school from September to December, and then it was home to the Rosebud Reservation for the Christmas furlough.
After wonderful holidays with my family, Christmas vacation came to an end. The winter weather was threatening, so my father decided it best that I fly back to school. As we drove toward Rapid City, the radio warned of a blizzard coming in from Alberta, predicting high winds, below zero temperatures, and tons of snow. My father left me at the downtown hotel in Rapid City, and he hurried back to the reservation. I got up early the next morning when it was still dark. The snow was blowing sideways, and I could not even see the ground. I called down to the front desk and found that the shuttle was going for the 6 a.m. flight which was still scheduled. I checked out of my room and sat down in the lobby near the window. Snow was blowing everywhere. An occasional car would go by, but there was almost no one outside.
The snow let up and I could see almost a half a block. A shadow passed under the street light, and someone was leaning into the wind heading toward the hotel.
The person was all wrapped up and came inside. She shook the snow off her Pendleton blanket, and I could identify that she was my father’s cousin. She lived a couple miles away. She had no car but had walked to see me before I departed. She came up to me and put her arms around me and said, “Son, I heard you were going back to school today and I wanted to come see you. How is your mother and how is your father?” We sat down and talked until the shuttle bus pulled up. I stood up to go, and she stood up and put her arms around me. She said, “I want you to know that I am proud of you for staying in school. Someone in our family should have an education. You learn everything you can. I will think about you every day. I will pray for you every day.” She wrapped the blanket around herself and walked back out into the blowing snow.
When someone cares for us amidst the blizzards of life, we know we are significant. This is not something that can be taught in words but can be communicated to others in how we treat them. Every teacher worth being a teacher knows that her students will forget what she says to them but they will never forget how she made them feel. That is the difference between learning something in the head and learning something in the heart. Belonging, Mastery, Independence, and Generosity are the vital signs of positive youth development. These are a birthright of Native people but also a precious gift for children of any culture which sees its children as sacred beings. These are the things that we need to learn in our heart. We have put these things around a medicine wheel, and we call it the Circle of Courage because the result is someone who is courageous in surmounting the challenges of life.
This excerpt was taken from Dr. Brokenleg's recent article Transforming Cultural Trauma into Resilience, published in the Fall 2012 issue of Reclaiming Children and Youth. Download the entire article for just $2.99.
The recording of Dr. Martin Brokenleg's January 30 webinar presentation entitled, "The Power of Family for At-Risk Youth" is now available!