WRITER | NICOLETTE CHAMBERY
Celebrating the Importance of Native American Youth
Native American history in the United States is marked with injustice, tragedy, and unrest. Early invasions from European countries disrespected the native inhabitants in ways that still impact communities, and those whose ancestors were affected, today.
Programs that address this tumultuous history for Native Americans are still lacking in Michigan, with one beautiful exception: Spirit Journey. It was the vision of Brandon Ahmicasaube Smith, who conceived of the organization in 2012 after a conversation with his parents about providing summer programs that could empower participants in unprecedented ways.
The statistics he aimed to combat included dropout rates, suicide, and sexual and substance abuse, which are highest among some Native American communities.
Over the past seven years, Smith developed a plan to engage kids in activities that build confidence and remind them of their worthiness. These include Christmas parties where gifts are dispersed to all in attendance, after-school tutoring, gym games and food, field trips, and introductions to potential role models who have overcome difficult barriers to reach their own dreams.
Participants have shared how the Spirit Journey experience has changed their perspectives, and as the program continues to gain funding and broaden its reach, more students’ lives will be changed.
One of last year’s camp participants shared his experience:
“Thank you for letting me participate and be a part of Spirit Journey. I am honestly thankful for everything you have done for us. I know that I have ticked you off so many times more than I should have. But it’s only ‘cause I feel so comfortable being around you and the other campers. Honestly, you’re practically my family ‘cause you are my hero. Every day I learn something new about Spirit Journey and something new about myself. Spirit Journey will be the biggest change in my life. You have taught me so much about life and what it takes to become a man and a person who needs to accept what happens in life. Everything that I have done with Spirit Journey showed me that my life will always need improvement, and I don’t know how to say thank you. Brandon.”
Another participant recounts how the experience changed his life:
“Hi, my name is William and I have been with Spirit Journey since day 1. And let me tell you that these past years really have changed my life in a good way. And I have made so many new friends that will last forever. Without Spirit Journey I would probably be home doing nothing and learning nothing. One of my greatest memories with Spirit Journey was building the camp. When Brandon first took us there all I saw was a building and a kitchen. So I thought, where was this going to go? But Brandon was the one that helped open my eyes, and we built something that I never thought could be possible. And with that, I just want to say thank you for supporting us kids and Spirit Journey.”
William was failing in school five years ago, but in 2017, his grandma shared with Brenda Hendley, development director of Spirit Journey, that he tested so well in science, that he’s now in AP Science his freshman year in high school.
As Spirit Journey plans for summer 2020, young lives just like these two stand to gain the world, all because of the intuitive vision of Brandon Smith, who saw a need in his community and continues to work hard to meet it.
For updates on this organization, visit their Facebook or website.
Spirit Journey Northport
(231) 590-4063 l SpiritJourney.us