Dr. Paul Dauphinais is a psychologist for Turtle Mountain Community Schools in Belcourt, N.D. He wrote this letter earlier this year after attending a tribal outreach gathering for American Indian youth, part of the work ChildFund supports in the United States. Here’s an excerpt.
I had an experience last week that was very moving and gave me great hope for the future of our youth and community. It was a Wednesday in the early evening. I was invited to go to the gym at Dunseith High School. When I arrived, there were children, youth and some of the outreach staff gathered near picnic tables. One of the tables had food that the staff had prepared. I was observing and enjoying the true friendships that the staff and youth showed. A couple of the girls then spontaneously began to serve the youth and staff. They assumed that responsibility without any adult coaxing. It was a pleasant experience.
The gathering really demonstrated to me that each person there genuinely cared for one another, making sure that everyone was served food and satisfied. The children and youth were respectful of each other and it was clearly evident that each one was welcome.
After the meal, several of the team leaders gathered youth in a large circle for the main part of the gathering, the Talking Circle. [Talking Circles are an important component of ChildFund’s cultural restoration initiatives.] The adult leader then began with an introduction of himself and his family in the language of the Anishnabe; he gave an explanation of respect in our cultural world. After this, Paco, a stuffed animal, was handed from person to person to say what respect meant to them and who and what they were respectful of in their lives.
When each youth had finished with their explanations, the rest of the circle applauded, showing respect and acknowledgement of the other person’s perspective. Each person in the circle was offered a turn. The insight that youth demonstrated in their speaking was a pleasure to hear, no matter their age. We have such great leaders-to-be who will be able to have insights into their daily lives and what it means to be Anishnabe/Mitchif. I was very proud to be a part of that group that night. [ChildFund believes that engaging children and youth in initiatives that connect them to positive Lakota values, practices and beliefs strengthens their cultural identity and their resiliency against inherent risks in their environment.]
All week, this past week, I wondered how these youth developed into such respectful and insightful beings; what is this process of growth? Who were they before they became involved with what is called Club Night? How do children mature in this manner – to become so respectful of each other and confident to speak about how one of the gifts of the grandfathers is part of their lives in the presence of others?
Club Night has been happening for many years through the leadership of Claudette McLeod and Turtle Mountain Outreach, and the staff of the Tribal JTPA, Turtle Mountain Youth & Family Center and tribal youth programs.
After the Talking Circle, the youth and staff played a group activity where there was not any bickering about rules or other negative behaviors. Everyone seemed to truly enjoy each other’s companionship, regardless of gender or age. At the end of the evening, the staff remains to assure that each youth has a ride home and that, if someone wants to talk about a concern or share a recent event, they are there.
I just wanted to jump in and be a part!
I thank the group for allowing me to be a part of the group that night.
Club Night will continue to be a part of program services and the dedicated staff will continue to be supportive to the youth. And I thank them for providing this opportunity for our youth.
With help comes hope.