To Our Brilliant and Treasured Native Youth:
As the new school year begins, you are entering into a new year of learning and growth. For many, a new school year begins with excitement to see friends and get back into familiar routines, yet it isn’t long before you find yourself challenged and sometimes overwhelmed with projects, exams, papers, peers, family struggles, and whatever other unique challenges we each may face.
What began as sheer enthusiasm for school often fades into even greater enthusiasm for weekends and summer- anything to give you a break! But I encourage you to remember something, beautiful young relatives, something incredible that has continued to help many others in times of weariness or struggle. Remember this as you continue throughout your school year:
Young relatives, generations ago, ancestors prayed for you. As I can imagine, in the morning at sunrise, among the many things that our ancestors laid down prayers for, with tobacco, water, cedar, or corn pollen, they prayed for you. In their time, many generations ago, you were the future generation – their future great grandchildren who had yet to come. They prayed for your life, your health, for you to have a connection to earth and sky and of all of the universe.
“We must protect the forests for our children, grandchildren and children yet to be born.” -Qwatsinas, Nuxalk
Look at your hands, your face, your cheekbones, your eyes, and hair – you are a part of them, both flesh and spirit. The mere fact that we are all here today is evidence of their love and resilience. You are the prayers of ancestors.
“Let us put our minds together, and see what life we can make for our children.” –Sitting Bull, Hunkpapa Lakota
Yes, young relatives, you are the prayers of Massasoit, of Handsome Lake, Chief Osceola, and Crazy Horse. You are the strength of Quanah Parker, of Four Bears, Tecumseh, Geronimo, Maneulito, and Chief Washakie. You are the resilience of Sitting Bull, Medicine Bottle, of Chief Joseph, and Buffalo Horn. You are the tender love of Pretty Shield, Lozen, and Zitkala Sa. You are the intelligence of Charles Eastman, Susette La Flesche, and the courage of Sarah Winnemucca. You are the grace of Chief Seattle, the tenacity Eloise Cobell and Wilma Mankiller, and the hopes of many tender grandmothers.
Beloved youth, young men and women, our entire existence is evidence of all of their love and resilience. You are prayers, love, hope, and strength made reality and made flesh.
As you face each day, remember that learning is sacred, and our minds, a gift from our Creator.
“We manifest our power through how we use our intelligence. … We should thank the Creator for the gift of intelligence.” –John Trudell, Santee Dakota
Remember, young relatives, the same blood that was shed to protect this land and all that remains of our people, still courses through and honors your veins. You have the all the strength to survive and the intelligence to thrive.
Since the days of our ancestors, we have endured generations of heart ache, oppression, loss, and tragedy. But you, beloved young people, you come from warriors and grandmothers who never ceased to sing songs of strength, and live vibrant lives of courage and bravery. This is your world, young relatives. Face it courageously.
“With what the white man knows he can oppress us. If we learn what he knows, then he can never oppress us again.” –Plenty Coups, Apsaalooké
As artists and athletes, welders and mechanics, writers and educators, as lawyers and doctors, and entrepreneurs and community organizers, your skills and education will become a pathway to your future. Recognize your talents, and find your strength. With education today, you, too, can give back to the communities that nurtured you, just as our ancestors have. Prepare for future generations, just as our beloved ancestors have.
Today, education is your bow, your arrow, and your shield.
“There is no greater weapon than knowledge and no greater source of knowledge than the written word.” Malala Yousafzai, Pakistani Nobel Peace Prize Winner
Relatives younger than yourselves now look to you, too, for courage and hope, and as an example of what they have the potential to become. Show them the greatness that they are capable of. Show them how amazing and strong they are. Ancestors are beckoning, beautiful young relatives, raise up your voice, and use your gifts!
Indigenous young women and men, as you embark on this new school year, remember the brilliance of who you are, and always, always remember, the resilience you descend from. You are the prayers of ancestors, and the strength of many generations. In the spirit of all our ancestors, have an amazing year! WE LOVE YOU AND BELIEVE IN YOU!
Pishayu! It is good.
A Native Teacher
Sarah Sunshine Manning (Shoshone-Paiute, Chippewa-Cree) is a mother, educator, activist, and an advocate for youth. Follow her at @SarahSunshineM.