Outstretched silence filled the room. Tears quietly streamed down faces. The look of remembrance distilled upon the faces of three Natives as they reflected on the lives of warriors that came before them, their own lives and the future for the rising generation of powerful Native Americans.
Native Americans were the first known settlers in the United States, a people that were self-sufficient and, though in the past they populated much of this region, today only take up 2.09% of the United States population.
One Alaska Native, John Barbachano, a former BYU-Idaho student, explained what it was like on the reservation he grew up in, a small village of 200 people.
“Most of our food came from the land so we had to hunt for it, fish for it. That was kind of rough,” Barbachano said. “There was the bad side of it because almost all the adults were alcoholics, so it was hard to grow up in that situation. When I was adopted I never really looked back to my Native American culture at all. I just tried to forget about that portion of my life because it was just kind of hard, honestly.”
A Navajo Native, Devin Nez, a barber in Rexburg known on Instagram as “The Native Barber,” recounted his experience while serving a mission in North and South Dakota with the Lakota Tribe.
“I noticed the need for haircutting,” Nez said. “I just figured I could cut kids’ hair while I was there because there is no barber shop; there is no salon, even. They have to travel like two hours away just to even get a haircut so it was mostly buzzcuts the moms would do.”
Liana Johnson, a sophomore studying English and a Yakama, Shoshone and Navajo native, explained more about her experience on the reservation.
“Growing up on the (reservation), it’s dangerous as well,” Johnson said. “There’s a lot of shootings out there and some partake of drugs. It gets wild, but when I lived on the outskirts it’s more peaceful there.”
Through difficulties that some of us may never have to face, these individuals continue to push forward. From hunting for their own food, to surviving, to shootings and drugs, they all shared similar goals and desires to help this upcoming generation of Native Americans.
Each one wants to uplift and give back to those that may be suffering on reservations; they want to show them hope and light.
“I am trying to figure out a way to help the upcoming generation to not rely so much on others but rely on their own work,” Barbachano said. “Kind of changing the culture but not the tradition … I am definitely hopeful but we just need to be doing a lot.”
Nez reflected the same concern as Barbachano.
“In the scriptures, it says that the Native people will blossom like a rose,” Nez said. “I think that if that’s going to happen we need to learn to be self-sustainable. We got to learn to not take handouts but learn to be the first to take initiative and stand up for who we are and contribute to society.”
Johnson said that while searching for Navajo classes at BYU-I, to her surprise she found none pertaining to Natives.
“Why don’t they have that at BYU-Idaho as well so that we can get to know our own culture and language?” Johnson asked. “I hope BYU-Idaho can plant this into our school.”
Barbachano also expressed his concern with the school’s future for the rising generation of Native Americans.
“We don’t have a developed system for Native Americans in Rexburg, but I know that other colleges do, like (Idaho State University) has a good one, BYU Provo has a great one,” he said.
Being aware of the need to help Native Americans today is becoming increasingly important. Many tragedies happen on reservations that people don’t know about.
According to the Justice Department, “Indian reservations nationwide face violent crime rates more than 2.5 times the national rate, and some reservations face more than 20 times the national rate of violence. More than 1 in 3 Indian women will be raped in their lifetimes, and 2 in 5 will face domestic or intimate partner violence.”
Though tragedies may occur on the reservations, there is one thing that we can all do. Nez explained a way to help.
“For me, the idea of reservations doesn’t lead anywhere,” Nez said. “I think that just helping Native Americans see that there’s more out there, I think that’s the most inspiring message you can give them.”
As individuals who are capable to help those around us, we should unite and work to serve those that need our attention. Giving hope to Native Americans could change the future for these resilient individuals and possibly a whole tribe. Seek out service opportunities on a reservation near you, a quick internet search can do wonders for these tribes.
For more information on how you can help Native Americans, visit this website.