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Commentary: There are many bright spots

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Tribal judge Anita Fineday
Anita Fineday is a tribal judge on the White Earth and Leech Lake reservations.
MPR file photo

The statistics are genuinely alarming.  The violence is cause for great concern for all of our families.  The hopelessness of our youth is heartbreaking.  For those of us who live and work on our Indian reservations, we must pause and wonder what we can do to improve the lives of children on our reservations.  

I believe that poverty and chemical addiction are largely to blame for the current crisis in Indian country.  The crisis is not limited to Minnesota, unfortunately, but is spread throughout Indian country in the United States.  

We are witnessing the result of multiple generations of failed federal and state government policies which are at the root of  these current crises. These failed policies include forced removals, forced boarding school placements, the criminalization of traditional religions, the loss of indigenous languages and the loss of traditional homelands.  

These historical events, along with grinding poverty, lack of access to basic services and racial discrimination, have led us to our current state.

We cannot throw up our hands and walk away. There is hope, there is success and there is a future for us all. There are many of our tribal members who have risen above their background and circumstances to not only survive but to excel. 

I look to Erma Vizenor, the current chairwoman, as a shining star and example for our young people.  She has lived her entire life on the White Earth Indian Reservation.  She received her Ph.D. from Harvard University and could have a choice of careers.  But she has returned to the White Earth Reservation and devoted her life to improving the lives of her fellow tribal members, and especially the children.  

Erma Vizenor is also the founding board chair of the White Earth Children's Fund, a nonprofit recently formed to increase the resources available to the reservation's children.  

There are many bright spots such as these on every reservation.  We must focus our energy on nurturing these individuals and programs, who are here to make a difference for the lives of our tribal members. These are the bright spots where we must focus our energy and our sights.