Vi Waln: Bullies can be any age, even on our reservations

When we hear the word bully we might picture the mean boys and girls at school who intimidate smaller children on the playground during recess. But a bully can be any age. Some of those mean school children grow up into even meaner rez adults. They never grow out of being a bully. They live their entire lives victimizing other adults or children.

I found a really informative website when I researched for this column. The address is www.targetbully.com. There is a lot of useful information there if you want to check it out. I have included some of the information from the site in the following paragraphs.

“Bullying is no longer considered a harmless part of growing up. The detrimental psychological and psychosocial effects of bullying are well-documented. Bullying is a complex phenomenon that is influenced by individual, peer, family, school, cultural, and societal factors. Effective interventions must take these social-ecological factors into account. If we are to reduce bullying behaviors we must examine bullying and victimization from multiple perspectives.”

Most often, “Bullying is characterized by repeated, unprovoked harassment of another individual in which that individual has difficulty defending him/herself. Examples of bullying include: (1) punching, shoving and other acts that cause physical harm, (2) spreading rumors (including cyber-bullying), (3) excluding people from a ‘group,’ (4) teasing in a mean way, and (5) getting certain people to ‘gang up’ on others.”

Those examples accurately describe lots of real people living on the Rosebud and Pine Ridge Reservations. Did someone specific come to mind as you read the examples of bullying? I could name lots of people who I know personally that fit those descriptions; sadly, most of them are adults.

The Lakota are looked to from people across the globe for guidance on spirituality and environmental stewardship. I wonder what our foreign admirers would think if they really knew how many bullies live on our homelands. Today the meanie on the playground exists in other realms too. In my opinion, we even have tribal officials who have become experts at bullying their own people.

Sometimes the intimidation is so bad that our children will flatly refuse to attend school. Many students have developed real health problems in order to avoid regular attendance. I often wonder how many of our students were bullied to the point where they actually dropped out of school. I know I would not want to go back to a place where my peers were mean to me on a daily basis and the adults let them get away with it.

I do have to include the fact that there are many adults working in our school systems on the reservations who have their own personal problems which affect their job performance. Some of the employees in our school systems have drinking or drug problems. Others have a tendency to be violent and have anger issues.

I worked in a local school for several years and I can say there are adults who should not be working in educational facilities at all. Adults who are mean at heart can be more intimidating and manipulative than surly students. Worse yet, some adults act like they are blind to the bullying that goes on in our schools. Our children deserve better.

We can see on the news where some people are bullied to death. Some young people take their own lives because of the bullying they suffer. It must be pretty hard to be at the mercy of a miserable person who can intimidate you to the point where you feel you cannot go on living anymore. Do bullies even have a conscience? I highly doubt it.

Recently, I had the privilege of attending the Live, Laugh, Love conference organized by the staff of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe Wiconi Wakan Health and Healing Center. I was impressed with the agenda of activities. I think a gathering like this one should be organized on a monthly basis on every Indian reservation in the country. The positive energy was very strong.

It was extremely encouraging to see our young people helping one another to have a great time. I saw lots of our youth laughing and happy. I really appreciated the support offered by the “Bear Project” from the Pine Ridge Reservation. I do believe our reservations need more of our own members to step forward and join the youth leaders to help our young people feel good about being alive.

I want to say wopila to Tiny DeCory and the young people she works with on a regular basis. It takes a very special kind of adult to motivate our young people to the point where they are excited about helping each other. We need more people like Tiny on this earth. Her work is invaluable.

I also want to acknowledge Teton Saltes, Shawn Keith, Brian Sherman, Morgan Pourier, Catilin Pilcher, Myranda Pourier, Shavon Brewer, Erynn Miller, Kiana Walking Eagle, Bo Leftwich and anyone else who came with the group to the conference. I enjoyed all the powerful skits you put on for the students at Rosebud. I loved your costumes. I appreciate your honestly and courage in presenting to your peers the often dark reality of life as a teenager on the reservation. You might not realize or want to admit it but you are very important role models for our people.

I did not have someone like you to look up to when I was in high school. Granted, my high school experience was a lot different than the one you are all living through today. Life is so different for you all. I remember the influence of drugs and alcohol but I don’t remember having to mourn any of my friends because they committed suicide.

Finally, wopila to all the Sicangu youth for attending the conference at Sinte Gleska University; you hold the future of the Rosebud people and I want you to grow up in a good way.

Vi Waln is Sicangu Lakota and an enrolled member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe. Her columns were awarded first place in the South Dakota Newspaper Association 2010 contest. She is Editor of the Lakota Country Times and can be reached through email at vi@lakotacountrytimes.com.

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