Fifteen Native American youth connected with their heritage recently at MacLaren Youth Correctional Facility, thanks to an annual event at the facility organized by The Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde.
Members of the Grand Ronde tribes brought in visiting Native American singers and drummers from other parts of the U.S. and Canada to lead ceremonies, blessings, and songs, and to share their wisdom and build relationships with the youth.
This was the event’s fourth year. It started with a talking circle made up of the visitors, youth, and OYA staff. The visitors played drums, sang songs, and shared their stories and advice.
“When you don’t take care of your mind and body, you get where you’re at today,” said tribal elder Charles Tailfeathers, who spoke to the youth first. “Our message to you is to take care of yourself — mind, body, and soul.”
The visitors also brought in Native American medicines — sweetgrass, cedar, tobacco, and sage — that the youth and staff used to make prayer ties, which are sacred objects with spiritual meaning that the youth could keep in their living units. Later in the day, some of the youth participated in sweat lodge, a Native American ceremony of prayer and healing.
The youth listened respectfully during the presentations, and many said they were impacted by the words of the visitors. One youth said he was trying to reconnect with the Native American side of his heritage, something he had pushed away for the past few years in favor of gang involvement.
He was most impacted by the words of Josh Cocker, a member of the Kiowa and Tongan tribes, who told the youth that they are worthy and they deserve good things in life.
“You, as young men, walk with a fire inside you,” said Cocker, who lives in Oklahoma. “You are meant to be protected by that light. You are meant to be known by that light.”
Devin Bellerose, a member of the Cree tribe who lives in Driftpile, Alberta, Canada, told the youth that the drumbeats they heard that day “represent the heartbeat of our mothers, our sisters, our elders. We learn to respect women because they are life-givers.”
He also reminded the youth that focusing too much on their pasts, instead of where they are and what they are doing today, would not help them.
“Every day is a new day of your life,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what happened yesterday. That was yesterday, and it’s gone.”