From 40,000 Feet

O SI YO! (Oh See Yo) ‘Hello’ in my mother’s language of Cherokee.

Over the years I have flown literally hundreds, if not thousands, of hours to and from hundreds of Native American tribal lands. I remember many times flying at 40,000 feet above sea level and visualizing the land below the airplane. Sometimes it would be the dry deserts of Pueblo or the wet swamplands of the Seminole. Other times it would be flying over the Alaskan tundra or the plains of the Dakotas. I would contemplate the differences and similarities of our many tribes. The geographic regions could be seen in my mind’s eye as Woodland Indians, Plains Indians, Desert Southwest, Coastal, Mexican border, Canadian border, and Alaska/Hawaii natives. It seemed to me that each individual tribal culture is connected directly to its environment and what it needs for basic survival.

Despite our tribal cultural differences there are very basic and important similarities that connect all of us as a People. Similarities keep us connected such as our spiritual beliefs, sacred dance, singing, and even family values. Our desire and need for child safety and protection is the one common thread that can be seen from Kotzebue, Alaska, to Hollywood, Florida, and from Bangor, Maine, to San Diego, California.  The very future of our tribes’ continued existence rests on how well we nurture ourselves and our youth.

As recently as twenty years ago, I can remember how tribal lands were only visited by tourists during the spring or summer tourist seasons. A few non-natives who would venture into Indian Country on occasion, to buy toy bows and arrows for their children as souvenirs, or maybe to have their picture taken with a ‘real Indian’.

Today’s population of tourists and travelers infiltrate Indian Country as never before and many times bringing with them unhealthy or unsafe activities. There are more and more non-natives visiting our tribal lands. They arrive year round for many reasons such as casino resorts and hotels which offer vacation destinations. The land bases around many of our casinos have grown with additional stores, restaurants and hotels to accommodate the travelers. Whether you live close to a casino resort or not, we all need to be diligent in making sure our children are safe from harm.

As native people we need to constantly be educated and become aware of what might contribute to our tribal community becoming unhealthy. Native lands are witnessing and experiencing cases of child abductions and exploitation. The number of substance abuse cases, both medical and nonmedical, has risen dramatically over the past decade. The luring of tribal members off of the reservation for human trafficking is a serious and growing problem. The advent of the internet has been a means of communication that never existed in the past, but is now used in many unsafe ways.

I’ve said this before and you will hear me say it again; I do not have all the answers or quick solutions.  However, I believe the only way to combat our problems is to be aware of them and understand what is working to help the situation. We must all become knowledgeable of what we can do as law enforcement, public safety officers, professional youth workers, community and tribal leaders. We wish to bring to this website a discussion of subjects and issues that concern child protection partners and community leaders across Indian Country.

So let us all commit to including the view of ‘40,000 feet above our lands’ as we strive to serve our communities. We can work together to remember that while our tribes have many differences, we more importantly share many priorities around the protection and safety of our youth and the safety and well-being of our communities. We want our children and communities to be strong and we want our families to be healthy. I would like to see family members, educators, law enforcement and other public safety professionals, all jointly invested in working together to protect and promote safety on our tribal lands.

If you need help developing a Child Protection Program, begin by completing our online needs assessment tool, or you can share your request with us by using the contact us form on this site. You can also email us at any time at tribaldatabase@ncjtc.org or call us at 877-712-6237.

There is no word for good bye in our language. What we say is Do Na Da Go huh I (Doe Naw Daw Go Huh ee).

UNTIL WE MEET AGAIN.

Ron Gurley, Native American Program Specialist,
Associate with the AMBER Alert Training and Technical Assistance Program

Be Like the Red-Tailed Hawk

O Si Yo! (Oh See Yo)

That is how we say Hello in my mother’s language of Cherokee. I was raised in the Cherokee way by my Cherokee mother and grandmother. Grandmother ‘Mom’ as everyone called her taught me much about our native traditions, medicines, stories, and ways of surviving. One day as Mom and I watched a red-tailed hawk sail the bright Oklahoma sky she pointed out three small blackbirds circling the hawk, making dive bomb attacks on it. She explained the little birds were trying to take the hawk’s food, or trying to steer it off course, or maybe just being mean to it. Then she encouraged me to always be like the red-tailed hawk. Even when being bothered, teased and picked on, the hawk keeps flying in a straight line toward its destination. At any time, this big hawk could turn its sharp talons and destroy the small birds, but instead stays steadfast, fixed upon its goal. Through this focus, the red-tailed hawk stays on course and achieves its destination.

To this day, I remember those words, especially when I see examples of this teaching in our world today. We have child predators, substance abuse dealers, and a myriad of other issues that befall our Indian Country. Let us all be like the red-tailed hawk and focus on our goal of helping keep our children safe, our goal of being educated and well informed so we can keep our tribal communities healthy.

We have many things in common. We want our children to be safe. We want our tribal sovereignty and our communities to be strong and we want our families to be healthy. It will be my pleasure, along with other writers like Jim Walters, our AMBER Alert in Indian Country Program Administrator, to bring to this site a discussion of subjects and issues that concern child protection partners and community leaders across Indian Country.

As family members, educators, law enforcement and other public safety professionals, we are all jointly invested in working together to protect and promote the safety and well-being of our Native youth. We will partner with you to discover information and find inspiration, through the sharing of ideas, efforts undertaken, and lessons learned.

I was born in the first half of the last century and am very fortunate to be approaching fifty years working with our tribal communities, youth, tribal councils, and elders. I have worked with over 200 Federally Recognized tribes, and look forward to working with many others. I do not pretend to have all the answers, nor any quick solutions. Yet, over my many years working in Indian Country, I have had the opportunity to learn from programs that have worked well, along with those which have not. I and my AMBER Alert in Indian Country colleagues look forward to sharing our experiences with you, and more importantly, learning from you and your community as we venture forward together.

Some of our upcoming topics of discussion will be recognizing and responding the child commercial and sexual exploitation; working effectively with law enforcement in cases of missing, abducted and endangered children; developing child protection programs in your community, mentoring Native youth, and much more. Please follow our blog, and share with us your comments and thoughts on topics for future posts.

There is no word for good bye in our language. What we say is Do Na Da Go huh I (Doe Naw Daw Go Huh ee).

Until we meet again.

Ron Gurley, Native American Program Specialist,

Associate with the AMBER Alert Training and Technical Assistance Program