Native Sun News: Parents encouraged to connect with culture

The following story was written and reported by Kate Saltzstein, Native Sun News Correspondent. All content © Native Sun News.

Luticia Mann, a member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, serves as a school resource officer for the Bureau of Indian Affairs in New Mexico. As a recent presenter at Sundance Educational Consulting Inc.’s two-day Parent Involvement Training V conference in Albuquerque, N.M., Mann offered participants information on combating bullying, with an emphasis on cyberbullying.

ALBUQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO –– Finding strength in tribal traditions helps Native Americans face their problems, said Pamela Iron, who is Cherokee and Laguna, director of the National Indian Women’s Health Resource Center in Tahlequah, Okla.

One of the keynote speakers at the Parent Involvement Training V, Look Across the Mountain: “Voices from the Native Community” conference held in Albuquerque April 30-May1, Iron urged people to connect with their tribal past.

The conference was sponsored by Sundance Educational Consulting Inc.

People should learn about and value the favorite places in their homeland, Iron said.

“Look to the sacred places where we have ceremonies to find our voice. Seeing these places helps us face health problems, find wellness and continue the journey toward harmony and balance.”

Learning traditions helps teach the next generation values, she added.

“Young people have the burden to do rituals; many have never been told the reasons behind them. We must take the time to do so.”

Women are powerful in many tribes considered matrilineal – with property inherited through the female.

“Europeans came, Indians lost control,” Iron continued. “Historical trauma led to alcoholism and other problems.”

Often, people “take on the pain of their ancestors and feel loyalty to those who have died. They take on the death of ancestors as their own pain.”

Yet, tribes are resilient, she added. “We have an innate resiliency. Our ancestors are within us. Our cultural practices keep us healthy. They give us our identity. They keep us centered.”

Traditional practices, including naming ceremonies, puberty ceremonies and healing ceremonies help maintain mental health, said Iron.

“Traditional knowledge and way of life, using the heart with the head gives credibility to our people.”

The federal government forbade certain dances; they feared some would harm peoples’ health, she said. But “when men and women dance and sing, endorphins are released and they have a natural high. Endorphins are good for the body.”

Another way to preserve tradition and culture is to preserve tribal languages, said Iron. Too many Native Americans were discouraged from speaking their own language at boarding schools. But now, “schools brought language back.”

“We should stop and ‘look across the mountain’ to find our strength and go forward,” she concluded.

Cultural traditions and parental support can help young people facing problems such as teen dating violence and bullying, said Roberta Stone, a victim specialist for the FBI, and Luticia Mann, a member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe and school resource officer for the Bureau of Indian Affairs in New Mexico.

They talked at a session entitled “Teen Violence Awareness and Prevention of Bullying.” Many parents cannot imagine that their middle or high school students experience violence while on dates, Stone said. “It’s similar to domestic violence.”

“Teen violence is often hidden. Boys are often pressured to act violently by their peers, while young females have a romantic view of dating,” she said.

“Victims of date violence may be reluctant to report the problem. They are afraid that rumors might be spread about them, and they fear retaliation so they don’t speak up. They fear damage to their reputation and they fear being isolated and not fitting in with their peers.”

There are clues that a teen may be experiencing dating violence, said Stone, including physical signs of injury, truancy or dropping out of school, failing grades, changes in mood or personality, use of drugs or alcohol, emotional outbursts and isolation.

Cyberbullying on the Internet and on cell phones is a recent phenomenon, she continued. “This includes putting comments about someone on the Internet, taking photos of people at parties and threatening to put them on the Internet.”

Parents should always be ready to listen to their teenagers and believe them, Stone said, and they must encourage them to report problems to law enforcement.

Stone urged parents to know the close friends of their kids.

“They should have an escape or a safety plan before going out with their peers.”

It’s important for young people to know an adult they can trust, an adult who believes in them, respects them, someone to help them get through any problem that comes up, she said.

“They know that this person will never give up on me, and always give me a hug and help me get through this.”

If a teen is raped, Stone recommended keeping evidence such as clothing.

“For safety, consider double dating and make sure parents or friends know the plans,” she added.

Parents need to step in and help with their teens’ problems even when the teen wants to be independent, said Stone. “The human brain is still immature for teens. Maturity happens when we’re in our 20s.”

“Bullying is unwanted and repeated harmful acts and involves an imbalance of power,” said Mann.

Mann visits schools at four New Mexico pueblos, working to prevent bullying.

“Victims suffer psychological harm long after bullying stops,” she said.

Bullying includes assault, rumor-spreading, demands for money, destruction of property, intimidation, name-calling, hazing, sexual harassment and ostracism, Mann told attendees. Students may be afraid to report bullying, she said.

“This is because of fear of retaliation, fear of not being believed, not wanting to worry parents, having no confidence things will change, fear a teacher will tell the bully and thinking parents’ or teachers’ advice will make the problem worse.”

The most common form of bullying is indirect bullying, which includes phone texting, posting negative comments on the Internet, rumor-spreading, teasing and isolation, said Mann.

“With cyberbullying, young people use texting, pictures, words, photos and comments on websites.”

Many bullies are impulsive, do badly in school and come from dysfunctional families, she said. “Parents criticize them, they are strictly controlled or not controlled enough and have poor social skills.”

“Bullying happens in hallways, schoolyards, cafeterias and classrooms, on the Internet and is worse when teachers do not control the classes,” Mann continued.

“There are harmful effects on the kids being bullied: embarrassment, distress, absence from school. Students can’t concentrate, have low self-esteem and contemplate suicide. They have insomnia and depression.”

Mann advised parents not to ignore these signs and to get together with principals, social workers and mental health professionals so victims get help.

“Report it, don’t turn a blind eye to it,” she said.

Schools should employ people to help with conflict resolution before situations escalate to bullying, said Mann in wrapping up her presentation. “There should be a zero-tolerance policy toward bullying and group therapy for bullies. Victims should be encouraged to stand up to the bullies and report their behavior.”

In his introductory remarks at the conference, John Sanchez, New Mexico’s lieutenant governor, urged young people to look to education to achieve their dreams.

“Your plans should be bold. Don’t let poverty hold you back. Have a vision. You have the ability to work hard. Be tenacious. In your journey through life there will be obstacles. Be steadfast, never give up. Take responsibility, work hard and have tenacity to assure your success. Dream big.”

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