Growing Up Near Spirit Lake

My home’s proximity to a reservation gave me insight into a world much more different from mine.

Even as a kid, I realized that many Native Americans are caught in a dysfunctional cycle that shows little hope for improvement.

I understand Native Americans are reluctant to have this information shared with the outside world, especially when it is coming from a white person such as myself. But I think people need to know the truth about the reservation.

If people want to understand Native American students and why their enrollment is so low at North Dakota State, then they need to know what life on the reservation is like.

The reservation is fraught with social problems like poverty, drugs, alcoholism, suicide, public health issues, unemployment, violence, thievery and sexual abuse. It repeats itself generation after generation.

Many outsiders see Native Americans as innocent victims who are the products of years’ worth of systematic discrimination. This is definitely a significant component of their problems. Time has proven their past mistreatment by the U.S. government to be a disaster with lasting repercussions.

But to act like this is a complete explanation is misguided and naïve.

This mistreatment does not change the fact that Native Americans are flawed humans who are capable of good and evil, just like everybody else; it contributes to their situation.

Many people are unable to admit Native Americans bear some of the responsibility for their situation. But if you cannot come to terms with this fact, then there is little you can do to truly help and understand them.

Growing up, I was the opposite way. I understood that Native Americans are capable of good and evil, but it was much later before I learned to truly appreciate the good they are capable of.

Many of the people from my hometown of Devils Lake were upset with Native Americans for allowing their society to deteriorate to the point that it had. We thought it was obvious that there was something they could be doing to improve their situation.

I began to see things differently in 2012. The Spirit Lake reservation gained national attention when our state and federal governments acknowledged severe flaws in its child welfare system.

In addition to permitting widespread child abuse, some foster children were being sent to homes where registered sex offenders live. Some of the stories that were released in the aftermath of this incident were tragic.

It was an eye-opener. I always knew bad things happened on the reservation, but I did not realize they were this bad.

This incident made me go back and reevaluate my opinion of Native Americans, particularly those I went to school with growing up.

I remembered how many of them did poorly in high school. Some would miss class for days, or even weeks, at a time. Many did not graduate.

I wondered what kind of a home life was permitting this to occur. I started to question what kind of a person I would be if I came from that situation.

One thing that surprised me about this incident was how many Native Americans cared. When this issue made its rounds on social media, I saw how many were fed up with this situation and wanted change.

I began to realize that there are some good things that occur on the reservation, too, but they are not as noticeable. And like the bad things, Native Americans deserve credit for the good.

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