LAKE ANDES, S.D. -- The alarming rate of babies born to teen-age mothers should concern society and to help bring home its impact and offer possible solutions is the mission of a documentary film in the making.
The Yankton Sioux reservation and some of its teen-agers were chosen to round out the documentary from an American Indian perspective for "Breaking the Silence: Sex is Not a Four-Letter Word." It is not that the Yankton reservation has a higher rate of teen-age sexual activity or a higher birth rate among the young people. Rather the reservation was made available to an Emmy-award-winning filmmaker through the Native American Women's Resource Center.
Filmmaker Michael King found a number of young people willing to break the silence on teen-age sex and also found adults ready to help with ideas that may lead to solutions to the problem.
At most high schools on the Yankton reservation there are young mothers. Some have dropped out, and at the Marty Indian School, seat of the tribal government, the majority of girls who will graduate this next year are mothers.
King's film crew visited dance groups, talking circles, classrooms and one
on one with the girls. One subject, Celeste Fischer is a mother who attends Zenith Alternative school on the reservation. She has a beautiful baby and is very good with other children as well. The documentary will focus some of its footage on her.
Celeste is one reason the film crew came to the Yankton reservation, King said.
"I wanted to deal with teen sexuality. This country has two times the pregnancy rate of any other country. I wanted to find out why it was so high," King said.
He added that what he has found so far is that teens get most of their sex education from their peers, not parents. "Why not from parents?" King asked.
"Until we open up, the youth will find an infinity of other sources, music, media, other kids. It's time to break the cycle. We have a Victorian idea about sex; break the silence.
"What further contributes to the problem is MTV, the media, family separation, divorces and the fact that "kids are not supposed to explore sex on their own."
King said dysfunction was a factor in the lack of parental involvement. "Kids are breaking the silence."
What King has found so far is that parent, community and school must open up more and discuss matters of sexuality and then the youth behavior will show they make better and informed decisions. "The goal is to break the silence.
"The documentary is not a tool to say what decision is right. It is a tool to open discussion with teachers, parents and the community."
What it will reveal about the American Indian community and the suggested solutions is nothing new to the community. Again, as with the other communities, people who participated in a talking circle emphasized the fact that young people are victims of dysfunctional families, abuse, alcohol, violence and lack of caring by the parents.
Probation officer Michele Conway said it was difficult to get parents or guardians involved with the youth in a youth wellness court system with an intensive probation treatment program. "Parents say it is the child's problem, not ours."
There is a denial in the community and the school system that allows for generational dysfunction in the form of domestic violence and it's up to the adults to break the cycle, said Ida Ashes, Yankton.
"What are we doing to prevent that? At Marty I counseled kids at school and after they came back from a weekend at home we were back to square one," she said.
"Domestic violence is a part of the problem. Parents don't know problem solving and there is no consequence for their shouting at home. The kids learn," Ashes said.
Participants in the talking circle agreed music was violent. Television programs, dance and dress are also violent, they said.
Many grandparents and parents went through the boarding school system where they were abused, participants said. It was at the boarding school that youth learned from the priests and nuns and not from parents.
They learned that if they didn't follow the rules of the school they would be punished, sometimes with violent consequences.
"These are the lessons parents experienced in the institutions. That experience has a ripple effect on us today, on the youth today.
"There are a lot of wounded warriors on the road to recovery," said Charon
Asetoya, director of the Women's Resource Center, a Comanche.
Ashes said spirituality, whether traditional American Indian or Christian, got lost along the way, generations back.
"Kids today don't have spirituality to fall back on and we are the guilty ones for not teaching our family," she said
Within the problem there is a solution. Many talking circle participants said the spirituality, family, community and school involvement was the answer to the problem. This is not a secret. But, few had any magic formula for getting those elements together to work on the
solution to the problem.
"There are some parents who think it's OK for their daughters to have babies. I had uncles who wanted me to have a baby when I was 13, to make the tribe larger," Dorothy Kiyukay said.
And sex education is mostly directed at the female. "Any girl in school could teach sex education, but the boys don't know," Kiyukay said.
"To the 17-year-old that is leaving school because she is pregnant, there is more to it than just a cute baby, it is a responsibility. How will you support that baby?" Ashes said.
About young people, having sex first and relating it to love, the talking circle participants said to establish a relationship and companionship before thinking about sexual activity.
But the problem of establishing a meaningful relationship with youth, to educate them about sexual behavior is difficult. Young people don't trust the adults, parents, teachers, religion or government, Kiyukay said. "They don't trust themselves."
Another solution the documentary will show is spirituality and the fact adults must practice faith in them before the young people will trust and learn. "If we have faith in ourselves the children will figure it out," said Ralph Two Eagle, Ihanktowan.
The future is in the language, the culture, circle participants said. The future was in the children and if every segment of the community believes and teaches that the future will be brighter.
The problem didn't happen overnight for the American Indian. The historical culture did not have the problem and the solution will be a long recovery before improvement is recognized.
"There are a lot of families trying to make things better," Kiyukay said.
When the documentary is broadcast on NBC television in the spring of 2002, youth and adults, of various ethnic groups will have provided input into the project to establish, what King wanted -- a means to open discussion and open admission to the problem.
King won an Emmy for "Bangin'," a documentary that deals with the effects of handguns on urban youth. "Bangin'" was shown on NBC and PBS. "Breaking the Silence: Sex is Not a Four-Letter Word" will follow.