​ON THE FRONT LINES WITH SENATOR BEN NIGHTHORSE CAMPBELL

Ethnic boy beach 200The journal’s On the Front Lines series features interviews with leading authorities on juvenile justice and related youth issues. These experts have earned their credentials on the front lines in the struggle for a better tomorrow for today’s youth and their families.

JUVENILE JUSTICE: What do you see as the greatest challenges facing American Indian youth today?

SENATOR CAMPBELL: The greatest challenges facing American Indian youth are overcoming the obstacles to living a normal childhood, receiving a sound education, and being equipped to compete for jobs in the modern economy. Obstacles such as violence, drug and alcohol use, poorly funded schools, discrimination, and racism place incredible burdens on American Indian youth. If parents, tribal leaders, and elected officials do not address these problems and look for real solutions, I am afraid that the cycle of neglect in our communities will be passed on to the next generation.

Challenges experienced by the parents and families who reside on reservations in tribal communities also have an impact on our youth. Issues such as unemployment, poverty, and lack of housing—not to mention poor housing conditions—create an environment of stress and anxiety that does not encourage youngsters to learn, to play, and to live healthy lives. Ultimately, such conditions lead many American Indian kids to depression and, tragically, some of these children even commit suicide. I get upset when I see children who may never have the opportunity to discover their potential or develop their skills because of the inadequate family structures and environments in which they are growing up. Many children are nurtured and provided with appropriate care by family and relatives. Far too often, however, more is needed to provide the kind of environment that children need. We need to encourage and cultivate environments that facilitate positive growth, making it possible to teach children and youth that they can accomplish anything they set their minds to.

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