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Communities Under Siege

Communities Under Siege

Picture of Stephanie Woodard
Dakota children playing lacrosse

With the National Health Journalism Fellowship I just learned I received—thank you!—I'll embark on another reporting trip in Indian country, this time to investigate an aspect of children's health. The communities I'll visit are under siege, with many resources still dwindling: land bases; languages; clean water; fresh, culturally appropriate food, and more. Inclusion of language on that list may surprise some, but traditional words and phrases convey information about plants, animals, cooking, and medicine-making that have been essential to survival. When the language is gone, the knowledge is threatened as well. Loss of children could even be included on the list: Native Americans have a startlingly high proportion of youngsters in foster care. As a result of these issues, health disparities are extreme for Native Americans of all ages. Yet, in so many of their tiny communities, creative, energetic people are trying to rectify matters. I plan to report on those who are at the start of the process and those who are well underway.

The image shown with this post is a children's lacrosse team on the Yankton Sioux Reservation, in South Dakota, in 2011. It's not one of the subjects of my upcoming reporting, but it is an example of something I see all over Indian country: Native people reconnecting with tradition for a healthier future. One of the grandmother-mentors of the team and the mother of two of the coaches, Faith Spotted Eagle, told me that a traditional Dakota ball-and-stick game is one of lacrosse’s many Native ancestors. The Dakota called the game Little Brother of War, because it was a way to settle disputes without bloodshed. Getting kids involved with the team today means not just healthy outdoor exercise, she said, but teaching them to build relationships, negotiate their way through problems, and find positive male role models. In the months ahead, I'll be meeting more people like Faith, who are saving their own children via a wide variety of engaging activities.

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