A Call to Young Warriors, to All Young People
Lakota Spiritual Leader and Head Man, David Swallow, Speaks to Lakota Youth
by David Swallow, Lakota Spiritual Leader and a Headman of the Lakota Nation
Edited and Published by Stephanie M. Schwartz, Member, Native American Journalists Association (NAJA)
Young American Indians today suffer from many problems of the modern world. Alcohol and drug abuse, early pregnancies, gangs, and psychological disorders are everywhere on the Reservations. However, a lot of the development of these issues can be historically traced back to World War II or shortly before.
The 1924 Indian Citizenship Act created a special kind of dual citizenship which made American Indians into citizens of the United States (for the first time) as well as citizens of their own sovereign nations. Finally, Indians could vote. But also, for the first time, they could be drafted into the military.
The young Lakota Warriors looked at the military as a way to prove themselves as warriors. They believed it was an honorable extension of the traditional warrior ways.
So, young American Indians went off to World War II. After 100 years of forced boarding schools which resulted in generations of young Indians losing their sense of identity, family and traditions, the military became like the family they had never been allowed to have. They were grouped into companies which lived together and fought together and bonded with each other as a unit, as a family.
When the young warriors came home, they often became lost. With their military family no longer existing, gangs began to form to take their place. An example is the Hell’s Angels, the famous motorcycle gang, which was started in the late 1940’s. It is commonly believed to have been founded by ex-members of famous military fighting units of the same name.
Then, in 1953, long after Prohibition had ended, President Eisenhower made it legal to sell alcohol to American Indians for the first time. This changed the lives of all Indian people.
In his grandfathers’ day, the Lakota warrior came from a good family where he had been taught good behavior, good manners, respect for all life and good relationship with all living things. His parents never lied to him and he never lied to anyone. He was reliable and practiced honor and respect with a clean mind.
Even with all those qualities, he still had to qualify to be a member of a warrior society. He had to prove himself. It wasn’t just about fighting. But when he did fight, even then he practiced respect. He never mutilated another warrior.
The young warrior also never stole from his own people. He never beat-up or took advantage of his people. He never practiced sexual assaults on anyone.
The young warrior knew his real purpose was to protect his people and their lives. He knew his purpose was to protect the c’anunpa carriers, the sacred pipe carriers, and the holy men and spiritual leaders. He also listened to and learned from the holy men and spiritual leaders. He not only respected and protected life but he also learned to practice compassion. He acted with honor.
The young warrior knew that if he did all this, life would be beautiful and all would live in harmony.
But with the effects of alcohol, drugs, and the continuing policies of the Federal government towards the Plains Tribes, most of this has become lost and forgotten.
These policies aren’t so different from those practiced against other ethnic groups throughout history. The Irish, the Italians, the Jewish, the Gypsies, and many others all experienced what was called ethnic cleansing. But, for the American Indian, the policies still continue today.
These policies try to force us to live in ghetto housing called Cluster Housing. These policies have taken away our traditional foods that kept us healthy. These policies have created a private state prison system that makes money on incarcerating our young people rather than rehabilitating them. These policies have kept my children, my grandchildren and nephews and nieces, from learning how to survive and live from the land.
These policies and politics have created the “haves” and the “have-nots”, a two-level society of extremes on the reservation favoring corruption and nepotism in BIA and reservation government relationships.
We have no YMCA. Many have no job or any possibility of a job. We have no vocational training centers. We have no residential treatment centers for children and teens as an alternative to jail like they have in the cities.
Hope is hard to find. So belonging to a gang has become the only way for many of our young people to feel good, to feel needed and wanted.
Now, they say the Lakota are “Third World Welfare Recipients.” But worse is the fact that our young people steal from each other. Our people shoot and hurt each other. They practice deceit and abuse our girls. Elders now live in fear. The traditional values of the Lakota warrior no longer exist. They have become lost to alcohol and drugs and gangs.
So today, I am calling on all young Lakota warriors and young Lakota people. We need you to help save the future generations to come. Not me, not Grandpa, I don’t need saving. But your children and your grandchildren do.
Get back into your own traditional spirituality and traditional ways and values. Those hold the answers for you. Those will guide you and help you to know who you are more than any gang ever could. And it will be you who will bring the harmony back to our lives.
It will be you who will bring back hope to our People.
Ho he’cetu yelo. I have spoken these words.
David Swallow, Wowitan Yuha Mani
Porcupine, South Dakota - The Pine Ridge Reservation
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