August 28, 2015

Looking to the Future in Indian Country: Empowering Native Youth

Pine Ridge1

When asked by representatives of several federal agencies what one thing would make her life better, a young girl from a reservation in South Dakota got right to the point: “a house.”

When many of us hear this, we assume she was echoing the “American Dream” of owning a home. But this young girl’s request was even simpler: she just wanted to know why her family could not find a decent place to rent—a place that she could call home. “My mom has been on the waiting list for nine years,” she matter-of-factly informed the group. She explained that she has lived her entire life with extended family in a small, overcrowded house. On her reservation and many others like it across Indian Country, it is all too common to see three or four families living together in a two-bedroom home.

Earlier this summer, I traveled to the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota to meet with tribal leadership, housing officials, and senior representatives from several federal agencies to learn more about a youth suicide crisis facing Native youth in that community and to identify concrete ways to work collaboratively with the Tribe and the Oglala Sioux (Lakota) Housing (OSLH) to address the immediate crisis, and to look at the long-term solutions.

During our visit, we met with several Native youth. The majority of the young people I had the privilege to talk with did not want to dwell on the fact that they live in the second poorest county in the entire nation. Instead, they shared stories of strength and perseverance, and the vision they have for their community.

Youth participating in a college preparatory program called Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Program (GEAR UP), indicated that the few community and recreational centers that are available on the reservation, are important places for youth and that greater investment in these types of community facilities would be welcomed. They also talked about having access to jobs, quality housing and better infrastructure.

The Oglala Sioux (Lakota) Housing (OSLH) and the Thunder Valley Community Development Corporation (CDC) are celebrating and supporting these youth. With over half of the population of Pine Ridge under the age of nineteen, the Lakota youth are at the very core of Thunder Valley’s and the Oglala Sioux Tribe’s strategic plan, and are central to the ultimate success of the vision for the entire community.

OSLH has long been a supporter of youth programs, including the Be Excited About Reading (BEAR) youth group. BEAR is youth theatre troupe that uses the performing arts to raise awareness about youth suicides. Located in the heart of the Pine Ridge reservation, Thunder Valley’s mission statement is “Empowering Lakota youth and families to improve the health, culture and environment of our communities, through the healing and strengthening of cultural identity.”

HUD has just published its fiscal year 2015 Indian Community Development Block Grant (ICDBG) Notice of Funding Availability (NOFA), which will make approximately $59 million available for community development projects in Indian Country. Through this NOFA we are encouraging tribes to consider using these funds for projects and programs that serve tribal youth, including Head Start facilities, Boys and Girls Clubs, recreational centers, and job training programs. In addition, ICDBG funds can be used to rehabilitate homes occupied by youth and their families.

The NOFA is available at http://www.grants.gov, and at HUD’s own grants webpage.

HUD will offer a broadcast training for the ICDBG NOFA at http://portal.hud.gov/hudportal/HUD?src=/press/multimedia/videos in the month of September 2015.

HUD’s Office of Public and Indian Housing and our Office of Native American Programs continues to be inspired by these young people, and we remain focused on helping them achieve the goals they have set for themselves and the Pine Ridge reservation.

Lourdes Castro Ramírez is the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Office of Public and Indian Housing.

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