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NMAI Essay Contest Encourages Problem Solving

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American Indian high school students in the U.S. have the opportunity to explore their heritage and inspire change in their communities through the sixth annual Young Native Writers Essay Contest, announced recently by the Smithsonian Institution.

Interested high school students have been tasked by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) and Holland & Knight Charitable Foundation to describe a challenge facing their tribal community, and how it can be met and overcome. Past essay contest topics have included cultural traditions, homelessness, substance abuse, loss of language, and suicide among Native youth.

Her essay on her best friend’s suicide is what won Tashina Swalley, Sicangu Lakota, of Mission, South Dakota a $2,500 scholarship last year.

“She was the very last person I would ever expect to do that. She knew how to brighten up a day when the clouds were out and everyone was feeling blue,” Swalley wrote in her essay.

In response to winning, she said: “Now I believe that dreams really come true. This project helped me realize that the best way I can help my people is through my own education. Thank you for giving me the hope I needed to pursue my dreams.” The quote is posted on the Holland & Knight Young Native Writers website.

“Indian country has come a long way in recent years but has such a long way to go,” Ben Nighthorse Campbell (Northern Cheyenne), a former U.S. senator and current senior policy advisor with Holland & Knight, said in the press release announcing the contest. “The key to bringing an end to 60 and 70 percent unemployment, drug and alcohol addiction, high teen pregnancy and suicide rates is not through government programs. We must inspire the hearts and minds of our young people to be the change in Indian country. I applaud the Young Native Writers Essay Contest for providing an avenue of inspiration for our young leaders.”

Essays must be no more than 1,200 words and submitted by April 1 and uploaded to the contest website.

In May, five finalists will be named, and they and their teachers will receive an all-expenses-paid trip to Washington, D.C. to participate in an honor ceremony at NMAI. Winners and their teachers will also get a tour of the Capitol and the museum’s Cultural Resources Center, where they can view tribal objects. Winners also get a $2,500 scholarship and participate in writing workshops with an acclaimed Native author, who hasn’t been announced yet.