There is over 60% chance that if you’re a kid on the Reservation, you’re living in a single parent home. That one parent is struggling with work, keeping a car operating, food, their home, and with the needs of children.
Christmas time for kids on the Fort Peck Reservation, other Reservations, and at risk kids is especially difficult. With economics being what they are, buying gift only serves to complicate an already complicated situation.
The gifts, toys, and articles of clothing serve to suspend the 3rd world conditions these kids must endure. Some people will point to the temporary nature of the gifts. Like the first solar powered greenhouse built last summer in Poplar, doesn’t feed everyone on the Reservation. It’s a start in the right direction. In the kid’s hands rests a symbol of hope and love given to them by someone outside the reservation that cares.
When the kids receive their gifts, they squeeze them tight and never want to let go. This feeling and those emotions are so important. It lets them know they are being recognized and they matter. When they see all the people at Fun Day in the summer, that feeling is reinforced that there are people behind them and supporting them.
We hear stories from teachers, parents, and grandparents about the impact these gifts have had. Some of the kids still keep their LHNC sneaker beside where they sleep, even if they’ve out grown them. They keep their basketballs and soccer balls and hold them, even if they don’t play the game.
Apart of a child’s rites of passage is being recognized and a valuable member of society. When we don’t pass through these rites of passage, it can follow us into adulthood. It can take the form of extreme hopelessness, apathy, a “why bother” mentality, or it can escalate into criminal behavior, violence, and anger.
It is accepted by most that some of society’s most notorious criminals had childhoods that didn’t contain love, boundaries, role models, understanding, and rites of passage. When kids have the opportunity to experience for themselves these rites of passage it empowers them to reach higher and be the best they can be. Gone are the limits that society attempts to place on kids coming from difficult circumstances.
When kids feel loved, recognized, and appreciated they pay it forward when they are adults. Giving kids a head start is the best thing we can do for them, not just to the reservation but the world at large.