On October 14, 2014, fifty years to the day since Oglala Lakota runner Billy Mills’s historic gold medal win in the 10,000-meter run, Mills and Running Strong for American Indian Youth announced Dreamstarter, a new program to help bring Native youth’s dreams to life. Now, halfway through its first year, Dreamstarter grantees are already winning top national honors and awards.
“Dreamstarter helps young American Indians see themselves transform into champions through the pursuit of a dream,” said Mills, who grew up on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, in a press release. “No one believed I could win an Olympic gold medal. It only existed in my dreams. Native youth today struggle with a kind of poverty that robs them of their ability to dream about their future.”
Through the Dreamstarter program, Running Strong will give away fifty $10,000 grants over the next five years to support Native youth’s dreams for their communities. The youth leaders partner with community nonprofits to apply for and implement the programs. At the end of the grant period, Running Strong will choose five projects to be eligible for an additional $50,000 grant. The first group of ten $10,000 awards was announced this spring.
Noah Blue Elk Hotchkiss, 16, who became paraplegic following a car accident at age 11, is one of the 2015-2016 Dreamstarters. This summer, he was named Junior Athlete of the Year by Sports n’Spokes magazine, which focuses on wheelchair basketball. He is the first American Indian to win that title. He also received the NCAI Youth Leadership Award and was named a 2016 NIGA Youth Ambassador.
Hotchkiss is Southern Ute, Southern Cheyenne, and Caddo. For his Dreamstarter project, Noah partnered with the Adaptive Sports Association to hold wheelchair basketball clinics for Native youth with disabilities. American Indian youth with disabilities have very limited access to adaptive sports. The first clinic took place in Rehoboth, New Mexico on Saturday, August 15.
Breanna Potter, 20, Cherokee from Salisaw, Oklahoma, was named Indian College Student of the Year this month by the Oklahoma Council for Indian Education.
Potter’s Dreamstarter project, together with the Brushy Cherokee Action Association, addresses the diabetes epidemic through a community-based peer education program. She was also awarded a Mission Accomplished award by the Cherokee Nation Community and Cultural Outreach Program in recognition of her successful community program.
Darius Sparks was selected as a Youth Panelist at the Center for Native American Youth’s event, “Generation Indigenous: Elevating Young Native American Leaders” (video here). Sparks, 20, a member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe from Bismarck, North Dakota, used his Dreamstarter award to create a series of basketball camps for disadvantaged Native youth, especially those in foster care. The camps teach life skills like coping, goal-setting, relationship-building and perseverance through basketball and the application of Lakota and Dakota values.
Three Dreamstarters were selected to attend the first-ever White House Tribal Youth Gathering in Washington, D.C. this summer. Rashaun Nez, Breanna Potter, and Jacquelyn Nielsen were among 1,000 Native youth, representing 48 states, and over 275 different tribes in attendance. They had the opportunity to engage in dialogue with other delegates and senior White House officials about issues affecting Indian country.
“I feel motivated to go back home to my tribal community and keep pushing and talking about positive action,” said Potter.
Mills’s win at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics in an upset, come-from-behind victory has been an inspiration to Native youth and all Americans ever since. He is still the only person from the Western hemisphere ever to win that event. He co-founded Running Strong for American Indian Youth to help others live their dreams.
“I’m so inspired by our first class of Dreamstarters,” said Mills in the release. “The Dreamstarter program is one more step towards overcoming the poverty of dreams among so many Native young people. The Dreamstarters come from communities and tribes all over the country. They are bound together by the idea that, despite the challenges, their dreams can guide them to build a strong future for themselves and for their communities.”
Co-founded by Mills in 1986, Running Strong for American Indian Youth supports Native-led programs to help American Indian youth address their basic survival needs. This includes the need to believe in the power of their dreams and to build a strong future for themselves and their communities.
To find out more about the first class of Dreamstarters, apply for an award, or support a Dreamstarter project, visit www.IndianYouth.org/Dreamstarter.