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Cultural revitalization is needed to address social issues

To address social issues, cultural revitalization is necessary, said Mike Myers, program coordinator for Red Lake Family & Children Services.

Myers gave a keynote address titled "An Indigenous Perspective of Child Development" Thursday at the Evergreen House Annual Conference in Bemidji.

"We start with the idea that there are four foundational pieces," he told more than 200 youth-serving professionals and parents attending the conference from the region.

Myers said these foundations are personal development, cultural development, academic development and resiliency and resistance.

He said natural spiritual needs are vital to development. He explained that youth need to be seen and heard, know they are accepted and believed, know that their existence is beneficial, love and be loved, have hope and promise, know their place and purpose in the world and feel secure, safe and at peace with themselves and the world.

"It's not enough to feel secure and safe," Myers said.

He said the absence of peace creates chronic stress. He noted that children who grow up in violence, for example, never have peace. Until the condition or the threat of the condition is eliminated, he said the stress won't go away.

He said the challenges Red Lake faces include 61.5 percent of children living with their grandparents, 76.5 percent of children are 200 percent under poverty and 32.9 percent of youth age 16-19 are high school dropouts, according to Kids Count 2006. Kids Count is a national and state-by-state effort to track the status of children in the United States.

Also, Myers said 68 percent of Red Lake's population in 2006 was under age 18.

"We've got this big tidal wave coming at us," he said.

Meanwhile, Myers said Red Lake Family & Children Services sees the impacts of alcohol use, drug use and sexual behavioral issues.

If left unaddressed, he said individuals can experience higher rates of depression and other mental disorders, higher rates of suicide, greater susceptibility to addictions, lower education attainment, greater propensity for violence and impaired physical, mental and emotional development.

He said the impacts on a tribe can include continuing poverty; continued lowering of societal standards and norms; high tolerance and support levels of crime and other forms of violence; social, economic and political instability; and cultural disintegration and disappearance.

Myers said Red Lake Family & Children Services is finding that cultural revitalization is needed to address social issues. If there's going to be change, he said it has to come from cultural foundations.

He said Red Lake Family & Children Services exists only because dysfunction exists. He said eliminating dysfunction means re-empowering families and extended families.

When dysfunction is eliminated, he said it must be replaced with cultural foundations. The challenge, he said, is achieving cultural congruency.

"This is the challenge that we have and it begins at this place of cultural knowledge," Myers said.

He said achieving cultural congruency also includes nurturing cultural skills, cultural awareness and cultural encounter.

"In this process, we need to build on our strengths," Myers said.

He said these strengths include ways of life, spirituality, education, values, generations, environment, place in the universe, relations, identity, voice and sovereignty, as well as the power of the group.

With success, Myers said joyful expression of life, continuity and continuance, love and belonging, and the good way of life will be achieved.