NIHB Sponsors Native Youth to Provide Remarks on Children's Mental Health in Indian Country

WASHINGTON, DC - On Tuesday, March 8, 2016, the National Indian Health Board (NIHB) was pleased to sponsor the participation of Wiyaka Little Spotted Horse in a Congressional Briefing on Native Children's Mental Health.  The briefing was hosted by the American Academy of Pediatrics and co-hosted by NIHB, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry; the Center for Native American Youth; and the School-Based Health Alliance.
Wiyaka Little Spotted Horse (far left) stands with other presenters at a Congressional Briefing on Children's Mental Health on March 8, 2016
The briefing included an overview of the mental health challenges American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) children face and a discussion of what policies and programs work in addressing their mental health needs. The briefing featured the perspectives of Native youth, the experiences of health care providers serving AI/AN children, and a discussion of the role schools play in serving children's mental health needs. Click here for more information on the briefing. 
Wiyaka Little Spotted Horse is a student from the Oglala Sioux Tribe and lives on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.  During the briefing she courageously told her story about her own experience growing up with family addiction and hardships.  She also bravely told the audience of over 60 Congressional staff about her own struggles with mental illness and how she was able to get treatment - despite the nearest facility being over six (6) hours away.
One of the biggest impacts on Wiyaka's life was participation in a Lakota cultural healing camp.  During this camp, she and the other youth participants learned teachings of Lakota culture and language, including how to use them in everyday life.  She learned how to pray, make healthy choices and make positive contributions to others.  "I got to learn about my culture and it made me feel closer to who I am" she said,  "using Lakota values in my everyday life is important to my being."
Wiyaka is now committed to advocating on behalf of other Native youth who are facing similar challenges.  She made the following recommendations to those present at the briefing:
  1. Secure funding for additional youth advocates in the court system.  "We need people there to speak for us, and help the youth navigate this scary and complicated process," she said.
  2. Congress should provide sustained funding for cultural camps for both boys and girls.  The camp that Wiyaka went to was funded through community donations and, therefore, may not be sustainable.
  3. Congress should provide funding for safe houses for youth in Tribal communities so they have somewhere to go in times of behavioral health crises or family issues at home.
  4. Congress should also provide funding for wellness centers for people to learn coping skills, family therapy services, and other programs.  "This could get families talking about their issues right away before it gets bad," she explained.
NIHB first met Wiyaka when she came to NIHB's 2015 Native Youth Health Summit.  While at the summit, Wiyaka put together a digital story about her experience.  You can view that story here
Wiyaka Little Spotted Horse met with Senator John Thune  (R-SD) on March 8 to share her story and provide policy recommendations for better behavioral health services for Native youth.

Ms. Wiyaka Little Spotted Horse recently won a $500.00 Summer of Creativity Grant through the Youth Service American organization. Wiyaka is passionate about art and poetry as a means of healing and self-expression and will be using the grant money to host a series of events in her Tribal community where youth can creatively express themselves through art, poetry and digital storytelling. Wiyaka is an active youth advisory board member for the Lakota Children's Enrichment (LCE). LCE will mentor Wiyaka through the project and assist her in inviting health professionals and other Native youth leaders to join in raising awareness of behavioral health issues experienced by Native youth. 
For more information on what NIHB is doing to support Native youth, click here.

National Indian Health Board |
910 Pennsylvania Avenue SE | Washington, DC 20003 | Phone: 202-507-4070
Join Our Mailing List