In September 2017, First Nations Development Institute (First Nations) awarded grants to 22 American Indian organizations and tribes through its Native Youth and Culture Fund (NYCF). The grants totaled $410,000. One of the recipients was Medicine Lodge Confederacy (MLC), located in White Shield, North Dakota. The nonprofit organization serves the Fort Berthold Reservation that is home to the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara.
The Arikara Tribe has historically had young men societies where they were mentored by older men. MLC is striving to revive these ways of teaching through their Star Boy Camp, which recruited young men ages 12 to 15 and taught them the skills of leadership, communication, confidence and self-discipline in the summer of 2017. Those who excelled at the camp will return to be peer counselors during the next year.
Jennifer Young Bear is enrolled member of the Mandan, Hidasta, Arikara (MHA Nation), and served as the Star Boy Camp Coordinator. She says the seven-day camp came about with a lot of hard work, perseverance and patience … as it rained for two straight days. For many of the young men, ages 12 to 16, it was their first experience living in a traditional earth lodge, learning how to build a sweat or a traditional fire using flint.
“There were older mentors to help, the boys slept in an earth lodge, and in the end they were pretty proficient in the process of the camp – doing all of the things that needed to be done. It was a little community within themselves,” said Young Bear.
The young men traditionally butchered a buffalo on the ground, which included skinning of the hide, quartering and packaging the meat, singing songs in their traditional Arikara language, and they heard the traditional stories of their tribe. When the rain passed, they went canoeing, swimming and enjoyed the outdoors of the 3,500-acre ranch west of White Shield.
One important aspect of the camp was to help ground the boys in their cultural teachings, but also in their spiritual foundation. The boys hiked three to five miles out in the badlands to help them to connect and build a relationship to the land and the environment. They also learned different ways to handle stress by doing breathing exercises and meditating. They were shown how to identify traditional plants and call them by their Arikara name.
“We visited with the parents about the camp, and in the evaluations part, one parent said “my son left as a boy and came back as a man.” Going into manhood – there were traditional stories in our tribe about different socials that were held. We used to have these things. People saw the way they (the boys) left and how they were focused on their body, mind, spirit and emotions, which was uplifting to the camp,” said Young Bear.
Medicine Lodge Confederacy not only recruited boys from within the Three Affiliated Tribes, but it also worked with the juvenile court probation officer with the tribe, and boys who were on probation were part of the camp as well. Young Bear says the boys on probation fit in with the others, and that “in their own way, they kept order.”
From the experience the boys had over the seven days, Young Bear hopes they take with them those learnings as they progress though life. She along with the many others involved in bringing the camp about – from the tribal probation officer, to the Arikara language teacher, the tribal education program, the cultural and marketing director, and the MHA Buffalo Ranch that donated the buffalo to the Star Boy Camp – worked together on all aspects of the effort. But not just for this first camp, but for the future camps, too, which Young Bear knows will happen, and that they are rebuilding on long-established roots.
“I’d like to thank First Nations for funding us and for giving our boys a chance. We were very inspired. As Arikara people, we’re gardeners and we work with the corn. We’re in the early stages of our nonprofit, and our group is planting seeds with our children and we’re planting seeds within those young people and growing young men. They, in turn, inspired us as a group to keep growing and asked us to inspire the generations in the leading of our people,” said Young Bear.
As part of the Medicine Lodge Confederacy’s work with the Star Boy Camp, the organization was asked to participate in the Power of We – Fundraising, Sustainability and Telling Our Stories training held by First Nations in September 2017. As one of the 54 attendees, representing Native nonprofits and tribal programs from across the country, Young Bear was a part of the informative and engaging training that focused on sustainability, and provided the attendees an opportunity to develop a deeper understanding of fundraising best practices and communicating the impact in a peer-learning environment.
“It was really good. I was the only one there from here, so I could only pull out the main topics that they talked about, and as much as they inspired me with what they said, I couldn’t recreate it. I did share my notebook with everyone at MLC, and the main thing I got from it was that we need to step out of our box and fundraise, and take action steps and make our presence known out there. It’s an opportunity to support, to be a part of it and make things come to be,” said Young Bear.
First Nations launched the Native Youth and Culture Fund (NYCF) in 2002 with generous support from Kalliopeia Foundation and other foundations and tribal, corporate and individual supporters. The NYCF is designed to enhance culture and language awareness, and promote youth empowerment, leadership and community-building. To date under this fund, First Nations has awarded 351 grants to Native youth programs throughout the U.S., totaling $5.96 million
By Mary K. Bowannie, First Nations Communications Officer