November 02, 2023

Coleman Eagle Elk Mentors at Friends of the Children – He Sapa

In celebration of Native American Heritage Month, we're excited to shine a light on our Friends of the Children staff making a remarkable difference in the lives of indigenous youth. Meet Coleman Eagle Elk, a dedicated Relative (paid, professional mentor) with Friends of the Children - He Sapa.

Friends – He Sapa’s work with youth and families is rooted in promoting belonging and providing the opportunity to connect with Indigenous culture as a powerful tool for creating generational change. Coleman shared his insights on the role of cultural connection in working with Indigenous youth and families. He emphasized cultural practices like drumming and singing to build trust and instill pride among the youth he mentors.

Coleman was recently paired with a youth that struggles with a speech impediment. At their first meeting, Colemen brought the youth back to the Friends – He Sapa clubhouse and showed him the drum.

“You don't have to speak correctly in order to sing,” Coleman says. “And I brought him back and we started singing, and I could hear his little voice. He was so excited to be at the drum and to be able to witness that.”

Coleman shared that the youth was doing a great job and then he stopped and said “I know a song!” Then the youth started singing a song in Lakota, and he did not have a speech impediment at all.

“He said all the words correctly, the way they're supposed to be pronounced, and you could not even tell,” says Coleman. “To me that was truly amazing because in modern society, he has a speech impediment and he's having to take these classes and stuff. But in our culture, you find your strong points and you focus on that, and that's where a child especially can really grow.”

Coleman’s aspiration for the Native American youth he serves is simple: he wants them to graduate high school and be proud of who they are. As we celebrate Native American Heritage Month, we are proud to have Relatives like Colemen preserving Indigenous culture, educating others, and empowering Indigenous youth to embrace their heritage.

Read more about Coleman and the work of Friends – He Sapa in a recent article written by South Dakota News Watch at the link below.