The Seventh Generation: 5 Student Projects Making A Difference

This group of tribal college students is working on projects that will benefit the next seven generations.

The Seventh Generation is one of the Haudenosaunee’s core values. Honoring the Seventh Generation means making decisions that will have a positive impact on the future of the people seven generations ahead. Native students in today’s colleges are upholding that value by developing programs for the community, even before they graduate. Greenhouses, basketball teams for girls, mental health programs for those who suffer generational trauma, even fun and safe evenings for youth are among the projects this handful of tribal college students are taking on.

Making a better life is the number one reason Native college students say they attend a tribal college, Cheryl Crazy Bull, president and CEO of the American Indian College Fund, said. “They show us by their community work that a better life is more than employment,” Crazy Bull said. “It is about health, social justice, quality education, and a better tribal government.”

Building a Community Greenhouse

Oglala Lakota College students Matt Janis 24, Willis Zephier, and Shelby Ross 23, Porcupine, are putting their focus on conservation biology by planning a greenhouse that OLC teacher James Sanovia described as “high-tech, Lakota style greenhouses at our college centers. They will be for the community, by the community, and in the community.”

Janis is credited with the idea, which he chose because of the area’s high rates of diabetes. “There isn’t much fresh produce which contributes to diabetes. Produce must be imported, and the prices are higher. People on fixed incomes can’t afford them, especially in the winter,” he said.

“We want to have it year-round so we can have fresh produce for the rez and not have to rely on junk food,” Ross said. “We all wanted to move towards sustainability and renewable energies.” Ross had her reasons for her enthusiasm about the project. “I think it will be really helpful for the rez, and I want to give back in ways people haven’t thought about yet. Giving back to our community will benefit them in their daily lives with food and energy.”

Zephier was not available, but Sanovia said Zephier will be building a wind turbine for the greenhouse.

Developing A Youth Council

University of California, San Diego student Theresa Baldwin, 21, isn’t attending a tribal college, but she still aims to serve her people. Having already won many leadership awards for suicide prevention program Hope4Alaska, which she started in high school, Baldwin is now looking for new ways to approach old problems. “I am working to build a tribal youth council in my hometown. I didn’t know that was a possibility until I had the chance to interact with different tribes,” she said.

The youth council will focus on higher education, strengthening the culture and the well being of the people. “There is a group of us doing community service projects. I never knew what the world had to offer until I left.” 

Baldwin’s dream is for the high school students from her hometown to understand that there are many opportunities outside their hometown of Kotzebue, Alaska. “I know I want to dedicate my life to the well being of indigenous nations, maybe I won’t always focus on suicide, but it will probably always play a part,” Baldwin said.

Mental Health: When Traditional Healing Meets Modern Techniques

“With a history of injustice and violence, helping women is a big piece of mental health. A lot of our tribal communities only have whatever we get from Indian Health Service and tribal healers,” said Amanda Takes War Bonnet, who is a grandmother, a graduate student at Sinte Gleska, and the public education specialist for Native Women’s Society of the Great Plains.

Historically, Takes War Bonnet said the elders and ancestors practiced ways that kept them in balance. But today, much is lost through a modern lifestyle. “We are told all the time how to take care of your body, your heart, diabetes, obesity—but we are not taught how to take care of our brain. How do you take care of your mental health?” she asked.

Christina Rose

Amanda Takes War Bonnet is working towards uniting modern and traditional therapy techniques for women suffering generational and other traumas.

Takes War Bonnet, who is from Pine Ridge, believes, “We were really strong women at one time and we need to empower our women. They are weakened from the injustices. Education and awareness are important, especially when we have such a thick silence. People need to develop and attend webinars, community workshops, read, research—you need to know a lot. I really encourage women to do that. We need more mental health workers and healers, we used to need more teachers, now we need more guidance counselors in the schools.”

Chelsey Spotted Tail, a sexual assault advocate with the White Buffalo Calf Woman Society, works with Takes War Bonnet as part of mental health internship. Spotted Tail credited Takes War Bonnet with helping with the summer Isnati (womanhood) ceremony and activities that helped women heal.

Dr. Mary Ann Coupland, a clinical psychologist and teacher at Sinte Gleska University, said Takes War Bonnet is a person who does many things for people under the radar. “Amanda is on track to graduate in the spring with a Master’s Degree in mental health. The only thing that would stand in her way is missing class because she is too busy helping the people.”

Girls Basketball Teams

Jon Berryhill, 37, Three Affiliated Tribes, is a student in the United Tribes Technical College’s Business Program. He is making use of all the resources and connections that UTTC can provide. “I am learning to ask questions now, instead of waiting until I am done,” he laughed.

Jon Berryhill

Jon Berryhill, in black, and the assistant coach, Phillip St. John, are hoping to bring holistic success through the team sport of girl’s basketball.

Berryhill recognized that there were very few opportunities for girls to play basketball before high school, so he and two other students organized an elementary school level girls basketball team. Now in sixth grade, the girls have been playing together for three years. “They are doing very well,” Berryhill said. “They are one of the top two teams in the state.”

“The team is about 80 percent Native, and our kids are developing confidence in their teamwork. It’s nice that they know they can compete,” Berryhill said. “Basketball is a tool. We are trying to create a student athlete who will succeed, who will go above and beyond, who won’t settle, who will go to college, and have dreams of being the next Shoni Shimmel. We see inner city teams, but not too many Native girl basketball teams.

“These girls are already playing at the eighth grade level,” he said proudly.

Developing Safe Activities for the Youth

“We want to provide something for the youth that we wished we had when we were growing up,” Waycen Owens Cyr, 19, Fort Peck Community College, Wolf Point, Montana, said. As the student president majoring in computer technology, Cyr said, “We do as much as we can to make sure students have the help they need to maintain their education. If they have a problem, we help.”

Waycen Owens

Waycen Owens wants to provide safe activities for the youth, the kind he wished they had when he was young.

Cyr has made it his mission to provide safe activities for the youth. “We organize movie nights, Christmas and Thanksgiving events, giveaways for the students; and keep the student life active. We show newer movies and promote safe activities.” Cyr said, noting that even older people attend the events. “Our plan is to hold safe events for the youth in the area.”