Posted by on Jul 26, 2018 in Featured, News

The Battle for Our Youth Will be Fought in Our Homes -Renee Holt

The Battle for Our Youth Will be Fought in Our Homes -Renee Holt

The Battle for Our Youth Will be Fought in Our Homes

By: Renee Holt

As a mother to three beautiful children, a pre-teen adolescent son and a teenager-daughter, and a four year old going on ten, my life is pretty busy.  It’s not easy. Granted I have my tough days, I also have pretty awesome moments that bless me with pure happiness. While preparing to watch the Shimmel sisters (Shonie and Jude) play on ESPN in the Final Four I found myself filled with hope and encouragement, they are one example of a mothers love and sacrifice.

As a parent, I believe that my life has been preordained with exactly what I needed to become the Indigenous woman and mother that I am today. I was adopted into my step-fathers family and raised with great family values and one of my aunts served as a good example and role model for me. From early childhood, I remember my aunt being astrong Diné woman. She lived a substance free life, and followed her convictions by keeping alcohol out of her home. While most of my childhood memories are filled with things like cool cereal box toys and waking up to trek off on my bike, as a kid, I was no stranger to substance abuse. Not only did I see family struggle with this, I’m pretty surethat if my aunt did not raise me, I’d have a different mind set about substance use.

Since I have become a parent, I’ve become aware that substance abuse is a serious issueand throughout Indian country it affects our communities negatively. From small reservation towns to the urban Rez, regardless, it is a serious issue that our Indigenouscommunities, especially our youth continue to face. Today, this proverbial enemy stilllurks in our communities. Present day Rez life, whether rural or urban, is wrought withsubstance abuse that our youth unfortunately may see as “normal.”  This is disconcerting to say the least. As a mother, I see how some of our youth, including my own, aresubjected to this dysfunctional “normalcy” but more so, the apathy related.

Recently, I encountered the issue of substance abuse with my children. When asked what their thoughts were when approached by other youth who use, they did not seem to think it was serious.  They shared marijuana use was not like “other drugs that are worse.” Iexplained that marijuana, although seemingly harmless, is a gateway drug that can lead to other substances.

Overall, the issue of substance abuse is glaring. Yet modern Indigenous youth in our community face disheartening apathy by adults in Indigenous communities when it comes to the topic of substance abuse. Members of our Native communities often turn a blind eye to abuse, thereby avoiding the elephant in the room. Sure we should pray for our communities, however, if we don’t take any action, prayer and compassion alone do not help our People. One of our ancestral teachings is that of helping to raise youth.Recently one of my sisters stated, “it is the community’s right to inform me or any parentwhen they see a kid engaging in any prohibited activity.” My hope is that if anyone from our home community sees either of my kids engaging in behavior or activity that is illegal i.e. drug related, underage drinking, or even being violent or disrespectful… I expect them to tell me.

Today, we have members of the community who shy away from saying anything and don’t think it’s their responsibility to speak up because it’s not happening to their kid(s). On the contrary, it is one of our ancestral practices to address an issue directly, especially if it affects the youth in a community. As a part of reclaiming ancestral rights as the original people of this land, we must also reclaim the knowledge and teachings of our People.

Considering that Indigenous youth are exposed to peer pressure and pop culture,prevention and intervention should start earlier than age 10.  I find a proactive and assertive attitude on this sensitive subject is necessary, but also required. I think of the Shimmel sisters and their mother’s choice to raise her children off the Rez. Not everyone has the opportunity, nor is it the first choice due to circumstances. Given the Shimmel sisters excelled while off the Rez, it was at a sacrifice on their mother’s part. With peer pressure as a tough contender for youth and although the following is not an exhaustive list and are not the only answers to an endemic realty for our communities, they are suggestions to help address a critical issue:

1.) If available, help youth get involved with Big Brothers or Big Sisters program or a Boys & Girls Club. If none is available, find young people who are willing to help address this issue and get involved with UNITY, Inc. which is a great resource and event for Native youth to become involved with, they have an opportunity to meet other Native youth and positive role models doing good things in their communities.

2.) Teach youth to say “No!” early and define what a strong and resolute “No” means.Kids often times find it hard to voice their opinion so a clear and resolute “No” needs to be defined for them.

3.) As a parent/guardian, it’s important to be gentle, yet instructive. Kind, respectful parenting vs. hostile parenting results in open communication, where a hostile environment can create tension and cause a child to withdraw, trust me I’ve experienced this as a teen and parent.

4.) Treat youth with respect and talk to them as you would someone with whom you want to build a healthy and respectful relationship. Kids understand and know more than we as parents are willing to admit, trust in their ability and skill set to understand and know issues that concern us as parents.

5.) Inundate youth with cultural teachings and Indigenous knowledge. Take them toceremony, introduce them to song and dance, smudge them (and your home if you practice smudging). Share why these “ways” are important. After all, the difference between non-Indigenous and Indigenous people is our “ways.” These practices have been passed down from one generation to the next and serve a purposeful place in our world. If you don’t practice these ways, reach out to community members who can help share in this positive and encouraging cultural practice of our People.

6.) Parents- consider a parenting program, whether it is traditional or contemporary.  They often times include problem solving and communication skills, building self esteem and affirming your children. Often time’s youth have a different way of expressing themselves. A great online resource can be found at

7.) Another important option as far as adults and parents are concerned is that ofbeginning the journey of healing and recovery, whether from loss of a parent due to substance abuse, abuse in a specific form, these are important to recognize. Further, weneed to include our children in the process of improving our health and wellness.  We need more resources and environments where children, teens and young adults can work through their problems, like building self esteem and finding forgiveness. This is crucialto mending the fabric of family and healing is a the core.

8.) Last, but not least, teens also need mentors and healthy role models, especially people who have persevered through life challenges and traumas. Healthy role models help our youth learn and grow and healing the family unit is inclusive whether in building or rebuilding the family unit, it is a process that includes positive influences and people

In closing, today, our enemy is no longer an outside tribe raiding our camp to steal horses, women, and children, but substances which sedate our communities and rob innocent children of sober parents, healthy families, and wellness. I believe substanceshave stolen from our culture and culturally speaking, we are losing our ways when we are fearful of speaking up and correcting our youth. Time for that to change and change has been a long time coming.