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Other Opinions: Giving the youth of White Earth a sense of hope, 'new spirit'

The White Earth Band of Ojibwe is embarking in a new venture, one which we hope will strengthen the generational bonds of American Indian people and provide a lifeline to cultural preservation and pride in heritage.

The tribe's highest elected leader, Tribal Chairwoman Erma Vizenor, came to the Beltrami County Board meeting on Tuesday to brief commissioners on the White Earth venture, one which hopes to literally save its children.

The White Earth band purchased the former Archdeacon Gilfillan Center and, on Jan. 1, plans to reopen the 40-acre campus as the White Earth Oshki Manidoo Center, or "New Spirit" Center, as a residential treatment center for American Indian youth ages 10 to 18 who are referred by the tribal or state juvenile corrections system for chemical dependency or substance abuse.

Chairwoman Vizenor cited a metro study showing that 47 percent of the youth there in the juvenile justice system were American Indian, while the statewide population of American Indians is only 2 percent of Minnesota's population. "We're losing our future," she told commissioners. Also, "the best investment any of us can ever make is in our youth."

The Oshki Manidoo Center will provide culturally appropriate treatment to American Indian youth, as well as tackling mental health issues. While the center is predominately expected to take Indian youth referrals, Vizoner said the center will serve youth of all races. "Our doors are open," she said.

The center's mission statement is that the "White Earth Nation dreams of the Oshki Manidoo 'New Spirit' Center as a place for native youth to begin to embrace healthy behaviors and attitudes that will transform them, their families and our communities."

That interaction with families is key, center staff said, as often a rehabilitated youth only returns to a family suffering from generational alcoholism or family violence. Saving the child also means building a nurturing family, which the Oshki Manidoo Center hopes to provide.

Beltrami County commissioners admit that nothing they've tried has worked, although they've been willing to try just about anything. The county has a high rate of many problems that plague youth, from teenage pregnancies to juvenile delinquencies to even teenage suicides. Commissioners are hoping that the White Earth effort works, and becomes a part of the solution.

The center's vision statement has that "youth will return to their community following successful discharge with a new outlook, understanding their importance as an integral part of the larger community, chemical free and able to sustain sobriety."

Accomplishing that would go a long way in turning some dour statistics around.

-- Bemidji Pioneer