All young people face challenges, but LGBTQ+ and Two-Spirit (LGBTQ2S+) youth may encounter uniquely difficult hurdles. Recognizing this, and seeking to celebrate the resilience these young people develop, Oglala Sioux Tribe youth proposed a resolution to their Tribal Council—recognize June as LGBTQ2S+ pride month. The Tribal Council agreed unanimously.
The youth then set about planning Woitan—Lakota for "pride"—events to recognize and support the reservation's LGBTQ2S+ community, focusing on peer support, tribal and cultural identity, and opportunities for youth to express their authentic selves.
The tribe's vice president, Dr. Alicia Mousseau, and her team supported the efforts, recruiting volunteers and developing ideas for events to promote positive self-identity among LGBTQ2S+ youth, teach them about spiritual and mental healing, and introduce them to healing-informed methods for addressing challenges. Staff from OJJDP's Tribal Youth Resource Center acted as advisors, provided consultants, and offered suggestions for funding sources. A series of three free events resulted, each held in June:
- A screening of the film Milk about activist Harvey Milk, who became California's first openly gay elected official. Moviegoers walked a "rainbow runway" for photographs, and tribal leaders held a panel discussion after the screening.
- The "Color Run, Walk, and Sashay," with 1-mile walk and 2-mile running routes.
- The LGBTQ2S+ Woitan Wicatuwitapi (pride gathering) camp for youth, featuring sessions on traditional Lakota teachings and LGBTQ2S+ history.
The daylong camp opened with a presentation by a traditional healer, who spoke about the roles LGBTQ2S+ people have played in Lakota history. The cultural and historical information "really laid the foundation for the rest of the day’s events," said Tasha Fridia, Assistant Director of the Tribal Youth Resource Center.
Tribal experts then worked with youth to construct a traditional tipi, which remained open throughout the day for participants to pray, reground, or smudge themselves, Ms. Fridia said. They explained the significance of the seven poles used when constructing a tipi; each is named for one of the Lakota people's seven sacred laws, the Woope Sakowin, which offer guidance and balance:
- Waunsila (compassion).
- Wahwala (humility).
- Wacantognaka (generosity).
- Woohitika (bravery).
- Waohola (respect and honor).
- Woksape (wisdom).
- Wowacintanka (fortitude).
Youth ambassadors from the Tribal Youth Resource Center offered a presentation on Wokpan—spiritual kits containing traditional medicines used in self-care—and a healer explained how and when to use each of the traditional medicines. Later in the day, participants created and decorated their own Wokpan containing sage, sweet grass, abalone shells, and other materials.
Other camp sessions focused on global LGBTQ2S+ issues, self-esteem building, and "really knowing who we are at our core," Ms. Fridia said. Leaders encouraged youth to take pride in being both indigenous and LGBTQ2S+.
The Tribal Youth Resource Center is available to help tribes strengthen efforts to support all young people. Submit requests online for training and technical assistance.
The Tribal Youth Initiatives In Focus fact sheet details OJJDP funding and programs to support American Indian and Alaska Native communities.