Loss of respect for self and others is the real downfall for today's tribal societies.
At a recent junior high school graduation I reminded the children about one Lakota virtue that was fast disappearing: respect. I told them we were losing respect for our elders, for each other and for the property of others.
And yet, these children must grow up and compete in the real world of today. They are not like the children in the textbooks. Their world is not one of tipis, green hills, ponies, and clear, blue streams. It is one of junked cars, broken windows, weeds, dilapidated houses, drunken and oftentimes, abusive parents--and hunger.
Many of these children are second and third generation welfare kids. They grew up with parents who had been abused, mentally and physically, at Indian missions and Bureau of Indian Affairs boarding schools. They are the children of children who lived through the great experiment in Indian education known as "Kill the Indian; Save the Child." The consequences of those ill-advised government programs are coming home to roost and the victims are now the perpetrators.
When a race of people has been victim to a system intended to destroy them as a people, it is easy to understand why they have had such a hard time finding their way in the modern world.
On one reservation in Arizona nearly one dozen young people have committed suicide in the past two years. When this became a trend on the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming a few years ago, the elders and the holy men stepped forward and took the children back spiritually. It worked. After a while it's hard to tell where delusions end and reality begins. But as happened at Wind River, a return to the old ways can lead to the solutions so badly needed by the young of today.