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Hecel Oyate Kinipikte

(so that the people may live)


The complex and mystifying transition from childhood to adulthood is not
clear to adolescents or parents. From the day a child is welcomed into the
world, parents expect their child to achieve beyond what they have

Parents live vicariously through their children, imagining and wishing for
them great careers and a successful life. Then reality sets in, and
parent's and children's expectations don't always match.

Informal markers of the rite of passage for young people include drinking
alcohol, smoking cigarettes, having sex, obtaining a driver's license or
getting a vehicle. These benchmarks signal to a child their entrance into
the realm of adulthood. But the question remains: are these appropriate
markers that signify admirable and proper qualities we want our children to


Indigenous cultures of the Americas developed a tested methodology that
steered the passage from childhood to adulthood for young people. This
process for young Lakota women was the Ishnati Awicha Lowanpi (womanhood
ceremony) and for young Lakota men the Hanbleceya (vision quest), and was
the culmination of a series of structured events in which young people
participated with their relatives and other admired adults within the
Tiyospaye (family structure).

The structured events were teaching tools developed to assist young people
to make the right choices, thus easing the difficult transition. These
learning packets supplied the necessary ingredients, critical tools and
information to young people about their role for successful adulthood.

Tribal youth are no longer required to participate in the time-honored
traditions that offered guidance, support, and a specific timeframe for
entry into adulthood. Tribal youth now view their transition into adulthood
using the same standard rites of passage as non-Indian youth. The once
clearly defined transition from childhood to adulthood has become very
fuzzy and difficult to determine by today's standards.

Some young people begin smoking and experimenting with alcohol and other
illegal substances before age 12. Some of our young girls conceive at the
age of 13 or younger. Young men become fathers at the same age.

When a child begins to experiment with alcohol, drugs, smoking or risky
sexual behavior, it is the parents' responsibility to guard and guide them.
Recent studies point to a three-fold increase in the number of women who
get drunk at least 10 times a month. Another study showed 40 percent of
college girls binge drink.

When the increased rates of teen depression, suicide, alcohol poisoning,
sexual assault and pregnancies are considered together, it is clear that we
are dealing with an epidemic of social issues that will be carried into
adulthood. Young people who begin drinking at an early age are at an
greater risk of developing heart disease, reproductive disorders, brain
abnormalities and social problems. The long-term consequences of alcohol
abuse are much greater for girls than boys.


To gain an understanding of teen physical development -- particularly the
brain, which is the command center for behavior -- scientists found that
the teenage brain continues to develop well beyond the accepted 18 years of
age. The brain lays the foundation for behavior, habits and future choices
up until a person is 25 years old.

The teen brain goes through a period of pruning. Just as a gardener prunes
plants, so the brain prunes brain cells that aren't being used. This period
of development is very important for parents to understand. The teen brain
finds it very difficult to plan ahead, think of consequences, to fully
understand risky and destructive behavior, and to self-manage their


Our ancestors understood these important developmental stages and developed
a system to respond to it.

Young children were given guidance and nurturance from all the adults
surrounding them. They were taught the rules for social behavior and
interaction. Adults modeled the behaviors they hoped to see in their
children. Repetition was used to affirm behaviors that parents desired in
their children. Social and motor skills were continually tested and
refined. Spiritual and moral values were an integral part of this learning

There is a silent scream by our youth for the return of an established
ritual that sets a standard for entrance into adulthood. As Indian parents
we have a responsibility to formally set in place those concrete expected
standards that once were a clear guide for what was expected of our
children. Only in this way can we ensure that we affirm our cultural values
and traditions for our youth. This is how we must protect our children and
our future for generations.

Carole Anne Heart is the executive director of the Aberdeen Area Tribal
Chairmen's Health Board. She can be reached at (605) 721-1922 or Visit for more information.