Native Youth Council, a ‘very empowering’ group of students bonded by similar experinces

Photo courtesy of Jeanie Dumire. The Native Youth Council waving during the Hot Springs...
Photo courtesy of Jeanie Dumire. The Native Youth Council waving during the Hot Springs homecoming parade.(KOTA/KEVN)
Published: Oct. 11, 2022 at 3:50 PM CDT
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RAPID CITY, S.D. (KOTA) - Nearly 900,000 people live in South Dakota and nine percent identify as American Indian or Alaska Native. For decades Indigenous people have fought to keep their culture alive. Now, the focus is on creating strong Native American youth. The Hot Springs High School Native Youth Council is a place for students to feel confident in themselves and their history.

What have you noticed in this short amount of time from the group?

“Their self-esteem. Wanting to make a difference in school, they want to have a voice, they want people to see them in a positive way,” said Jeanie Dumire, Indian Education Coordinator, Hot Springs High School.

Dumire is Ojibwa and grew up in Wisconsin. She recalls a time in school when learning about her culture was not important and felt lost at points throughout her life. Now, she helps Native American kids discover their culture through Hot Springs High School’s Native Youth Council.

“I genuinely think that this is a place for like the kids, that feel like they don’t have anywhere safe to fit in,” said Johnny Bossingham, president of the Native Youth Council. “This is somewhere they can come, and they can say what’s on their mind without being told differently how they should feel. This is a safe place for the people that don’t feel safe anywhere else.”

Dumire says often, Indigenous kids at school are expected to act a certain way: either be the fastest runner on the track or can be viewed as a troublemaker. But the council gives them the space to be confident and grow at their own pace.

“Knowing you have a community in a school; because it’s a pretty tiny school, we’re not huge but we’re a pretty, decently, sized group. And just knowing that you have like-minded people, many of us have similar experiences, it’s something that’s very empowering,” shared Taya Rotterbush, secretary and treasurer of the Native Youth Council.

This is the third year for the council, and the students have made a point to get the word out -- including participating in the school’s recent homecoming parade.

“It made us more noticeable to the rest of the school because, you have like football and all of them – super noticeable. Then there’s us with our float going out there, not much, but we’re proud of it,” said Bossingham. “It really showed a lot of the kids what we were doing.”

The Native Youth Council is open to anyone, not just Native Americans because according to the students involved the most important thing for the council is diversity and inclusion.