Friday, July 11, 2008

Honor the Youth Spiritual Run Staff Returns to Red Lake July 11, 2008

The Honor the Youth Staff was retrieved from the Prairie Band Potawatomi last week. We would like to thank Allan and Deb for their care of the staff this past year and we thank the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation for their kind and generous hospitality.

This morning at sunrise, and at this time, the staff is in motion at this moment running through the Red Lake Nation in Minnesota and will be retired in Ponemah, Minnesota.

Friday, March 2, 2007

Honor the Youth Spiritual Run 2005, The Beginning

Aug 17, 2005 10:03 pm US/Central
New Suicide Hot Line For Native American Youth
(AP) Minneapolis Monica Yellow Bird was only 17 when her cousin hung himself. Her cousin, also 17, had plans for the future, she said. He was ambitious and he worked out. But he was drinking at the time, and when her family returned to her grandmother's home one day they found him hanging by a sheet inside. "As native people, we keep everything inside. We think it makes us stronger," said Yellow Bird, now 23. "But people need to talk about youth suicide in our community." And that's exactly what many American Indian community leaders are trying to do. On Wednesday, Yellow Bird gathered with American Indian teens and community leaders to kick off the Honor the Youth Spiritual Run and introduce the Native Youth Crisis Hotline. American Indians from 15 to 24 in Minnesota are more than twice as likely to commit suicide than teens of other racial or ethnic groups. "It's so common, it happens all the time," said Yellow Bird. "Everybody in the community has similar stories." The run was to kick off at midnight Wednesday, winding almost 300 miles through the state and ending on northern Minnesota's Red Lake Reservation. In March, 16-year-old Jeff Weise killed nine people -- including seven at Red Lake High School -- before turning the gun on himself and leaving a traumatized reservation in his wake. "(The run and the hot line) are the first of a lot of things in our community that we need to do to heal," said Minneapolis School Board member Peggy Flanagan, a member of Minnesota's White Earth tribe and the first American Indian to serve on the school board. Although many in the American Indian community are hesitant to point to the Red Lake trauma as a reason for increased suicide prevention efforts, they certainly see it as a reminder of the possible consequences if problems are not addressed. Community members say isolation, alcohol, drugs, violence and family problems are some of the problems that spur the high suicide rates. "Our kids are facing incredible odds," said Flanagan. "We should all be out there lifting them up." Nationwide, American Indians between the ages of 15 and 24 are three times more likely to commit suicide than any other racial or ethnic group. Suicide is the second-leading cause of death for American Indians from 15 to 34. Remembering her own brother's suicide helped spur Pat Shepard, a Minneapolis social worker and member of Wisconsin's Lac du Flambeau tribe, to propose the hot line. Shepard said she was researching American Indian youth suicide rates for a presentation when the shootings at Red Lake were splattered all over the national news. Memories of her brother haunted her, and the statistics seemed to keep piling up. "(Organizing the hot line) was a very intense experience for me. I knew something had to be done," said Shepard. So she started working -- almost $40,000 has been spent developing the hot line -- and two months later, it is operating. It is being run and staffed by Women of Nations, a group that supports battered women and their families and already runs its own hot line. More than 30 Minnesota agencies and community groups have supported the hot line, which will cost an estimated $280,000 a year. The National Congress of American Indians is interested in holding it up as a national model, organizers say. The 24-hour hot line is expecting to receive most of its calls from 12- and 13-year-olds, but it plans to serve people up to 18, said Ann Gaasch, a suicide prevention coordinator with the Minnesota Department of Health. Organizers are starting to distribute business cards with the hot line phone number all over the state. Word of mouth is a strong advertiser in the American Indian community, she said, and the hot line's success will depend on that. Cards will also be handed out during the Honor the Youth Spiritual Run, where participants will carry a staff adorned with eagle feathers through American Indian communities statewide. Many prominent community members will participate, including Floyd Jourdain Jr., the Red Lake tribal chairman. "We're losing children very quick, very fast," said Shepard. "If those kids had a number to call, maybe that could prevent it." -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Native Youth Crisis Hotline: 1-877-209-1266.
(© 2005 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

The Honor the Youth Organization

Despite our strengths and assets, Native American families and youth are not immune from the experiences of historical trauma, multi-generational grief and loss, depression and a host of other societal issues. Today, our Native families and youth are challenged with how to cope and deal with day to day life.

How Native American human life experiences are acted upon varies from one community to the next. In response to life challenges today in rural and urban communities, we have an epidemic of youth suicide, methamphetamine use, drug/alcohol, abuse or use, tobacco abuse and violence resulting in death. Many of our youth are normalizing these negative experiences in their daily lives, which is unacceptable. The HTYO has worked with other organizations and tribes to create and offer cultural activities which include a rich tradition of language and cultural practice

Suicide is the second leading cause of death for Native Youth between the ages of 15-24 years of age; their risk is three times higher of committing suicide then another racial/ethnic group in the country. For example, in Minnesota it is nearly twice as high as any other racial/ethnic group. In the 2004 Minnesota Student Survey, American Indian Youth 12 graders were more likely to report suicide attempts than other racial/ethnic groups.

Drugs, alcohol and depression are the norm for many Native American adults and youth on and off reservations. For example, alcohol and marijuana daily use are common for adults and youth. Native community members have abused tobacco, resulting in Lung cancer which is the leading cause of death for Native Americans. Now, we have the insidious drug Methamphetamine (METH) which our youth are using at an alarming rate.

Many of our families and youth are not aware or lack the understanding of how this drug causes permanent brain damage and increases the chances of permanent mental health psychosis which results in lifetime treatment with anti-psychotic medications.

Violence and violent death rates for Native youth per capita is increasing on and off reservations. There is not one Native on or off the reservations who can say they have not had a family member or Native friend die at the hand of some form of suicide, drugs, alcohol, violence and/or depression.

To the Family of George Spears, Sr.

Wednesday, October 4, 2006:
I wrote this on this day to honor your dad, husband, uncle, brother, grandpa, and friend. To let you know that I, too, had a father whom I cherished and who is now in the spirit world with all our other relatives. I wish I could be there with you during this time of your loss and grief. I do not have much but I humbly offer you my one gift, which I can give generously to all, and that is my gift of written words...


I did not know your father
At least, not in the way that you did.

I did not see the ways that he raised you
With great care, love, and good humor.

I was not there when he corrected you,
If you had misbehaved…and you can’t say you didn’t.

I did not hear the encouraging words he had to offer
To comfort you and guide you through all times.

I did not feel his warmth nor gentle hand
That held yours securely in a loving grip.

I did not witness any of these things that he has done for you,
His children, whom he has loved more than anything else.

Yet I know that what your father carried out,
Was done with the best of intent.

I know that your father lived life thoroughly,
With a generosity of heart and essence.

I know that your father lived with an integrity of being,
That few people in this world have the courage to live by.

I witnessed all that your father was capable of doing for young people,
When he ran with us in the Honor the Youth Spiritual Run.

But what I want you to know the most is that your father has touched
my own life and has inspired me to believe...

That there are such people in this world
Who are unafraid to give the best of themselves…each and every day.

And with utmost respect, I thank you for sharing your father with all of us,
We were indeed blessed by this gift.

Miigwitch, Wibthahon, Thank you and All My Relations!

Your Relative,

Renee New Holy
Omaha Nation

George Spears helped troubled children

Bill McAuliffe, Star Tribune
Last update: October 03, 2006 – 12:27 AM

Even as a young Macalester College student, George Spears was looking for ways to enhance his strengths as a man of his people. "He was clear about what his role was," said the Rev. John E. Robertson, a priest at the Bishop Whipple Mission at the Lower Sioux Indian Community in Morton, Minn., who was a friend of Spears' older brother and a fellow student at Macalester three decades ago.

"I don't like the term 'bridge-builder,' " Robertson added. "He was a man who knew who he was, and wanted to provide the best he could from a system that probably didn't understand completely who he was and the people he represented."

Spears, a member of the Red Lake band of Chippewa who went on to become a social worker with Indian children in troubled homes in Minnesota and the Dakotas, died Sunday after suffering a heart attack while running the Twin Cities Marathon. The lifelong runner, jewelry-maker, advanced karate practitioner, father of seven and foster parent of eight was 49.

Spears had been a runner since attending high school in New Mexico, said his son, George Jr., who also ran Sunday's Twin Cities marathon but didn't learn that his father had died until after the race.

He said his father had run marathons in less than 3 hours.

"He told my mom [Sunday] he was trying to beat me," George Spears Jr. said Monday. "I rolled my ankle in the middle of the race, and he probably could have. I knew something was wrong; I just kept looking back."

George Spears Jr. said his father and all his four sons often ran together. They also had plans to go deer hunting in the coming weeks near Red Lake.

"He was a really good hunter with gun and bow," he said. "He pretty much taught us all about tracking. He was very talented at the more traditional kinds of things. He kept a real traditional life."

Professionally, George Spears Sr. worked to place Indian children in stable families under the terms of the Indian Child Welfare Act. Sometimes that meant working with birth families to keep custody of their own kids, Robertson said. Spears' approach to his work, Robertson said, was the same as it was in his jewelry making.

"Whatever turquoise he got, that determined his silver," Robertson said. "And he didn't cut the kids, or put them into anything they weren't. He'd build their showcase around them. He took and created beauty from what was presented, what was natural."

George Spears Jr. also noted that his father was passionate about tribal politics, even running once for tribal treasurer without winning.

"He was a servant for his people, I guess," George Spears Jr. said. "That's pretty much how he lived his life."

Bill McAuliffe •

Honor the Youth Spiritual Run IV...

Rosebud, SD to Macy, NE, August 9-13, 2006...

A month ago, on August 13, I participated in the last day of the Honor the Youth Spiritual Run. The run began on August 10 at Rosebud, South Dakota and each day was spent running through the communities of the Yankton Sioux Tribe, the Santee Sioux Tribe, and the Winnebago Tribe until the runners arrived in Macy, the heart of the Omaha Tribe. The purpose of the run was to create awareness of Native youth suicide, drug and alcohol addiction, tobacco abuse and violence prevention throughout all our communities.

The Night Before…

When I arrived on Saturday night in Vermillion, South Dakota. I met the runners at the USD Native American Student Center. I greeted my long-time friend, Marcella Gilbert who coordinated events in Vermillion and in Winnebago. Then I got to greet Pat Shepard whom I first met last spring. One of the first things I noticed about the runners was their ages. Most of the youth ranged in age from 10 to 25 years of age. The older adults were in their 30’s, 40’s and 50’s.

Philip Gullikson said words of encouragement for the runners and then offered a prayer for our meal. Even though the runners had completed another day of over 90 miles, the young people still had a lot of energy. I was quite amazed. After this gathering everyone returned to the rooms for a much needed rest.

Sunday, August 13…

It was an intense day, in the extreme. We all woke up at 5:30 a.m. and headed out to the start site near Wynot, Nebraska. It was raining softly and peacefully. All the runners met by this creek, I didn't know the name but it was really a lovely area. The perfect place to began the run.

As everyone arrived we formed a circle. Then Pat Shepard began the ceremony. As soon as the sunrise ceremony started, I felt this tingling in my arms and hands. (This has been happening to me since I fasted last summer. It's a way that the spirits let me know that they are at work). This was truly a beautiful experience to start the day. First, tobacco was given out to everyone. Then, Pat Shepard, the Honor the Youth Project Coordinator and keeper of the staff, spoke to all the participants. She encouraged the runners to reflect on what the run was for and how serious the purpose is for everyone involved. When she finished, I spoke to everyone. First, I thanked them for their commitment to this run. And, I told them about the Omaha Tribal community and how we have been hurting from the recent suicides and violence. I also told them that what they were doing was going to help us and also was going to help them. I thanked them again. After the prayers, we each placed the tobacco we were given into a bundle, which was then tied to the eaglestaff.

Then the eaglestaff was given over to one of the runners who started running down the highway. The rest of us followed in vans. Each runner was to run with the staff singly or in pairs. I traveled with Pat and her friend Betty Martin in the pace van. Riding with these two was an adventure in itself. They had me laughing throughout the day until my jaw ached.

The second thing I noticed about the runners was that they were experienced runners and it definitely showed on this day. They maintained a strong pace. Wow!

I shed many tears and said many prayers that day. Prayers for the runners and prayers for the purpose they were serving. I saw how the little ones ran with the staff and how serious they were about it. There were three young boys, brothers who were running in memory of their mother who had died in February from a drug overdose. I watched the weather and I knew that this day was special for the run because of the way the clouds appeared. I have often seen these kinds of clouds on the third day of the sundance.

As we neared South Sioux City, I called the Macy Police Department to let them know where we were. They met us just a few miles south of Homer. We arrived in Winnebago around 5:00 p.m. From that point on things got even more intense. Nearly all the participants were running and the pace picked up. Two runners from Macy joined the run at this point. They were Eddie Webster and one of his daughters.

The Last Leg…

It was grueling for the runners. There was one big hill right before they got into Macy, which really took its toll on all of them. Some of the runners were hurting…badly. Pat called two of the runners, Joe Spears and Daniel Cottier, to come into the pace van so that she could let them know that they would speak for all the runners once we got to the pow-wow. I provided further instructions as to how they should introduce themselves formally to the Omaha people.

When we came to the turnoff for Macy, everyone started running. I could feel all the energy that the runners were generating. I watched the little ones most of all, they kept a strong pace. It was the most awesome experience. And, at the front was the eaglestaff.

As we arrived at the pow-wow arena, we were asked to wait until one of the specials was finished. We continued to run in place for several minutes. Then the arena director, Tony Provost gave the signal to the main drum and our honor song began. Of all songs, it was the AIM song. I turned and looked at Pat and we both just laughed. Of any song, that was the most appropriate one.

Many people came out to shake the runners’ hands. When the song was finished. Eddie and his daughter took the eaglestaff to the front of the announcer’s stand and I was called up there as well. I wasn’t expecting to be able to say anything at this time. So, I was glad that my mother also came with me. So, in turn I also called for Daniel and Joe who agreed to speak for all the youth.

When I spoke before all my relatives in the audience, I spoke from the heart and right now I don't remember a word I said. All I was aware of was that evening was that this was one way to create the awareness that is so needed for our community. Next, the two young men introduced themselves and spoke. Daniel Cottier talked first. He’s a member of the Oglala Nation and lives in Minneapolis. Although he was in a lot of pain, he told everyone why he ran for the youth and that he loved us. I was very happy that Elsie Clark provided a chair for him to sit in. Then Joe Spears of the Red Lake Nation spoke. He was very formal when he introduced himself. I felt so proud of him because he addressed everyone in the Ojibwe language. What each of these young men said about the run and its purpose impacted many people. I witnessed the reaction of the audience to their words. I also felt their words like they were burned into my very being.

The runners formed a semi-circle in the arena and introduced themselves and where they were from. Then we were finished.

Celebration and Sharing…

As we made our way to the Valentine Parker, Jr. Prevention Center, I looked at everyone and saw that they still had a lot of energy. Again, I was amazed. The day ended with a meal and with a youth forum for the participants. Marcella facilitated the discussion with the youth. Pat spoke to the youth about her experience and how she came to be the coordinator. Each one of the youth had a story about why they participated in the run. And, each story was one of heartbreak. They also talked of what the run had done for them. They each felt a sense of accomplishment.

There were many lessons learned throughout this run, from what I understand. Milton Miller ran the closing sweat. What was revealed was that throughout the four days, there was energy at work that at times seemed contrary to what the run was about. It was Heyoka energy and the valuable lessons learned were centered on this contrary spiritual energy and on sacrifice. This run was not only about creating awareness but was also about healing. All of us who participated received healing and understanding in many ways…most especially the youth.

Thank You!

I wish to thank the many people who came forward and helped with this spiritual run.

  • I would like to thank Red Lake Nation Tribal Chairman, Floyd Buck Jourdain, Jr. for recommending that the run come to Macy.
  • I would like to thank the Omaha Tribal Council for allowing this run to take place on our reservation.
  • I would like to thank the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, the Yankton Sioux Tribe, the Santee Sioux Tribe, and the Winnebago Tribe for their efforts.
  • I would like to thank the Omaha Tribe Pow-wow Committee and drum for their help with the honor song and special, and for recognizing the youth.
  • I would like to thank the Omaha Tribal Police Department and the Omaha Tribal EMT’s for all their efforts in making this run a success.
  • I would also like to thank Wopila Bad Hand, Tanya Whirlwind Soldier, Mabel Ann Eagle Hunter, Faith Spotted Eagle, Donnelle Saunsoci, and Marcella Gilbert for all their efforts in coordinating this run in each community.
  • I would like to thank Libby Webster, Elsie Clark, Jay Bazemore, Deb Parker, and Arnie Harlan for their roles in helping with the run.
  • I would like to thank all the runners, especially the youth.
  • I would like to thank Eddie Webster and his daughter for running with the eaglestaff.
  • I would like to thank my mother, Alice Saunsoci, for her good, kind words she shared with everyone.
  • I would like to thank Milton Miller and the Alcohol Center for the closing sweatlodge ceremony.
  • And, I would like to thank Pat Shepard, the Project Coordinator for her effort in seeing that everything fell into place throughout the entire run.

In closing, I would like to say that when the run was offered to the Omaha tribal community, I was unsure of how I was going to coordinate this end. I was in a lot of pain because of the break-up of my marriage that occurred right before this was brought here, and I truly had no idea what was going to happen next. I apologize profusely to anyone I may have offended in this process because of my own lack of direction. So, I say this from my heart, I am very thankful for this spiritual run and what I’ve seen these youth sacrifice. And, because of their sacrifices, I, too, have received healing and many blessings.

Now, it’s time for us to really begin our work...

Wibthahon! Ewithai wongithe!
Thank you! All my relations!

- Renee New Holy,
Macy Coordinator for the Honor the Youth Spiritual Run IV