It’s a really strange feeling to wake up this morning and know I won’t see any FIS students today. We ‘graduated’ the seniors yesterday and then sent all of the students home for the summer. No more kids dropping by in the afternoon to check Facebook in my office or calls for me to pick up a Subway or stopping by my office to get candy. Weird.
I wouldn’t have believed how quickly I could fall for a group of students. There are so many tender souls lying just beneath the surface of tough exteriors and as I have dug in just a little, I’ve gotten to hear enormous stories of disillusionment, abandonment, alcoholism, drug addiction, sexual abuse and relationship infidelity among others. It’s not like I haven’t heard any of these issues before in youth ministry because I have.
I think the big difference between ‘American’ culture and the Indian culture is total disclosure. Non-Native kids have the same problems generally as Indians but pretend that they don’t. We don’t talk about the junk in our lives and pretend that issues aren’t going on even though they clearly are. A left-over “don’t ask-don’t tell” mentality from the Clinton era perhaps? I’m not sure. Maybe we just don’t discuss such things in “polite company.”
I have found with Native teenagers that they are much more open with their issues. They are not afraid to admit that they have an addiction or drug problem or about disclosing some of the situations that got them to that point. Last week after chapel was over, I had another one of those candid moments where kids just sat around talking about home life. They freely admitted that it is not unusual for the family to sit around getting high together or drinking until everyone has blacked out.
One of the hardest things for me to do this year has been not to see things only from my perspective but to consider cultural perspective as well. I have had to get out of that “polite company” sort of thinking because there are real issues going on here and I’m hearing about them. While I don’t condone kids getting high or wasted, it is a real challenge to counsel students about making bad decisions regarding substance abuse when that is so culturally rampant among their family groups. They simply have never known anything different.
Having said all of that, I think these kids have seen the negative consequences that these types of behaviors have brought on their families and long for someone to offer them something greater. I truly believe that they all desire something greater for themselves beyond getting wasted every day and being held back by limited reservation opportunities. They want more for themselves.
They may never admit that openly because, again, it’s not culturally acceptable for them. Yesterday at graduation I saw it in the pride of accomplishment and the self-worth that came with receiving a diploma. For some of them, it had taken years to get there and they were among the few in their families to have achieved that honor. Some will go on to college, unheard of in many of their families.
I’m an optimist. I pray that one life a t a time I can have an influence and make a difference by letting kids know there is so much more out there for them if they’ll chase after it.