Representatives of Lakota Children's Enrichment are on the Pine Ridge Reservation this week for a three-day Youth Summit. The non-profit organization’s primary mission is to empower Lakota youth through opportunities in education and the arts, as well as assistance in creating community volunteer programs.
Lakota Children’s Enrichment also hosts an annual competition of poems and essays to amplify the voices of Lakota youth on Pine Ridge. This year’s theme, says founder Maggie Dunne, was “Voices of the Land”, which offered youth perspectives on critical land issues.
But the bulk of Lakota Children’s Enrichment, notes Dunne, is on mentorship and leadership programs.
“We have a Youth Advisory Board…middle-school through high school, with also now some college student representation of Lakota youth from Pine Ridge that are running our programs on the ground,” explains Dunne. “With our writing program…the Voices of the Land contest, we’ve provided a platform for voices to be heard on a national stage.”
Last year’s writing contest winners had their work published in Al-Jazeera America and Colgate University’s Alumni Magazine.
Nobel Peace Prize recipient Jody Williams was also on hand to offer words of encouragement to the Lakota youth.
“I think sometimes people look at people like me…you know, a white woman with blonde hair and blue eyes, and think…’Oh, it’s easy for her to say’ Williams comments. “But my background is not silver spoon and trust funds. You’re not where you come from. It’s part of what makes you who you are. You are who you choose to be in your future…and don’t let racism get in your way…don’t let how people see you get in your way.”
Jody Williams says the only thing that’s important is how you see yourself and how you want to be in the world.