Art and Music are Medicine: Ways to Encourage Young Native Artists

Courtesy Indian Pueblo Cultural Center / Traditional Teachings Camp for Kids at Indian Pueblo Cultural Center.

Tony Enos

Studies show young Native artists excel when encouraged in the fields of music, dance and art

Studies have consistently shown that children who are supported in music and the artistic endeavors do better in other non-related cognitive skills, such as math and science. For young Native artists, an embrace of the arts ties into Native culture as an instrumental part of our tribal identities and sacred ways.

Tribal cultures place value on our artistry as a sacred gift. We offer our song keepers, drum keepers and storytellers tobacco to share their gifts with us. Whether it’s an honor song, a death song, or a round dance, we preserve these gifts so that we can continue as a living culture.

School arts and music programs sit low on federal funding radars and music programs are the first thing on the chopping block in cities across Turtle Island. Boards of education continue to overlook what we as indigenous people have known for thousands of years: art and music are medicine.

As new pressures and stresses accumulate in the daily lives of our youth, we often see them turn down destructive roads that include drug and alcohol use, teen pregnancy and negative self-worth. In order to move away from a colonial mindset, we can show our youth there is solace and strength in all forms of music and the expressive arts.

Here are nine reasons you should support and encourage young Native artists

The Arts Offer Stability For Young Native Artists

Considering our youth are in the midst of struggling with a continuously changing life and physical body, Arts instruction offers structure and stability A consistent weekly dance lesson or weekend drum practice offers such stability as well as a sense of comfort that a safe and creative place will be there every week and/or everyday.

The Arts Offer a Break From Stress

The arts also provide a break from the grind of school and daily affairs that cause stress. At the Oceti Sakowin Camp at Standing Rock, many youth found sanctuary in the arts tent. Time to just be an artist and create gives them something to look forward to, providing a welcome and healthy escape.

The Arts Help Native Youth Build Self Esteem

Working towards small and manageable goals builds self esteem whether it’s piano lessons, traditional singing or Shakespeare in the park. When our young people realize they are able to learn a new skill or accomplish a goal, they become more confident.

Learning traditional arts like our ceremonial songs also puts youth in a position to play a vital role in keeping of our Native culture alive, adding to the value they see as a contributing member of their nation.

.The Arts Can Facilitate a Closer Connection to Family for Young Native Artists

Our young Native artists are more likely to achieve great things with the support of their loved ones, elders, and tribal community. Having someone who supports their dreams and believes in them can change the trajectory of a young person’s life. Giving family support for artistic accomplishments can fight those feelings of isolation and enhance self-esteem.

The Arts Offer Healing For Young Native Artists

Guitars For Vets is a non-profit organization that gives free guitars and lessons to war veterans living with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Their studies have shown that receiving guitar instruction for one hour a week and a monthly group lesson dramatically reduces the symptoms of the Vets PTSD including their anxiety and depression while improving their overall quality of life.

The level of trauma our Native youth experience today is on their Facebook and Twitter feed and arts provide a needed reset and recharge. Arts are also a more constructive way to purge feelings.

When youth are engaged in the arts that they enjoy, it releases endorphins — the chemical your body produces that makes you feel happy — providing an ease to anxiety and depression. Art therapy reduces anxious feelings and assists Native youth in healing from intergenerational trauma.

The Arts Open Educational Doors For Native Youth

A whole world of opportunities are attainable for youth in the arts. Youth scholarships, special admission performing arts schools in places like New York City and Native traditional art grants and cultural preservation grants can change a young Native artist’s life.

Online studying is another great way for youth on the rez. who may not have access to formal instruction to hone their talents.

When preparation meets opportunity, anything is possible. Native youth who have had instruction in things like vocal, dance, playing an instrument, or acting/theatre early in their artistic development puts them heads above other youth who have not.

The Arts Provide Language For Native Youth To Express Themselves

Arts are therapeutic for youth who are still developing communication skills. Finding your own voice as an artist is an exciting and liberating thing. We’ve all experienced a time where our thoughts and feelings were tumbling all over each other, and finding a way to set order to them artistically is life changing.

In addition, negative family and social experiences can cause youth to shut down. Life events that include family violence and domestic violence, bullying, lack of representation, or feelings of being different are just some of the things that can lead to Native youth feeling silenced, isolated, and minimized.

Arts give youth this opportunity to express pain, triumph, joy, and heartbreak through their art when they are not able to verbalize their feelings.

Meeting Like Minded Individuals Is Important For Young Native Artists

Going from being teased for being artistic in your neighborhood or grade school, to attending a performing arts high school, or even arts program/center, where youth will find like minded individuals is a crucial experience in social development for young Native artists.

Finding like minded individuals who share commonalities and similar viewpoints reduces fear of opening up and communicating ideas, and helps them make friends.

It’s Our Duty To Support Young Native Artists

We are supposed to want better for our young people and they are supposed to go farther than we ever could to accomplish things that we could not. If we cannot support the youth in our lives, give freely of our time and love and be proud of their dreams, goals and accomplishments, then it is time for us to do a serious self-inventory.

We cannot be that toxic adult or elder that crushes a young person’s dreams. We must not poison their minds with doubt. It’s our duty to nurture and protect our young people and remember how sacred they are. We must ensure they have every resource they need to reach their dreams and full potential. This includes our love and support.

Our young Native artists need to hear that one all-important ‘yes,’ in a world filled with ‘no.’ We need to be those people who believe in them when maybe no one else does.

As a Two-Spirit youth growing up in Philadelphia surrounded by drugs, violence, and bullies I could be found on any given day in my basement with my record player, dual cassette tape deck, and music. My LP’s and 45’s were my best friends, and as I evolved into a musician, I began to realize the precious gift that music is from Creator, and that it did indeed saved my life. Follow Tony Enos on Twitter – @TonyEnos.

Comments (1)
No. 1-1

Art and music have effects that we cannot expect, it helps people, apart from entertainment, is also the driving force and spiritual medicine for everyone, especially the young. I also have high hopes for young artists and hope they have more motivation to develop, I also try to help in my ability, I create and introduce music of young people to everyone