November 02, 2023

Extended Kinship informs the Friends of the Children Mentoring Model in Indian Country

As Friends of the Children works with youth across the country to reach for their dreams, we are striving to be good relatives to Indigenous youth and families in Indian Country. In the last year, we have cultivated and deepened partnerships with multiple Sovereign Tribal Nations, and are tailoring our long-term, professional mentoring model to embrace the tradition of extended kinship that is common in many Indigenous communities.

Friends of the Children - He Sapa was launched in Rapid City, South Dakota last year as the first culturally-specific chapter in our national network. Recently, Friends - He Sapa opened a new location on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, in partnership with the Oglala Sioux Tribe, supported by powerful leaders to guide and ground our work in Indian Country. Rick Hmuya Mani (Walks with a Roaring) Two Dogs serves as cultural advisor to Friends - He Sapa and ensures we honor Indigenous culture and support the empowerment of Indigenous youth.

Mr. Two Dogs is from the Mato Oyate, Kiyuksa Band and is an Oglala traditional healer and a Wakan Iyeska (Interpreter of the Sacred). He brings decades of experience in Lakota mental health and wellness, language revitalization, cultural competency, child and family development, and individual/family healing. Friends of the Children is committed to providing culturally responsive mentoring as culture serves as a protective factor for youth, providing them with a strong sense of identity and belonging. With the deep knowledge and connections to Indigenous traditions, Mr. Two Dogs has been instrumental in shaping our approach within the extended kinship system that helps raise Indigenous youth and supports youth in understanding their culture.

Native American Heritage Month 1

Indian Country is not monolithic — each Sovereign Tribal Nation is a diverse collection of people, and Friends of the Children works to meet communities where they are. Our mentoring model recognizes and celebrates that identities of the youth and families we serve are tied to their cultures, languages, and histories. Through naming ceremonies, the making of relatives, coming-of- age ceremonies, and healing camps, we honor these restorative and healing practices in our programming. Embracing these cultural ceremonies and practices provides a pathway for Indigenous youth to reconnect with their heritage and find empowerment within their communities.

The Friends of the Children national network has seen other growth in Indian Country. Friends - Western Montana has extended beyond Missoula to create a new site on the Flathead Reservation within the sovereign territory of the Confederated Salish-Kootenai Tribes. Friends of the Children also continues to nurture its work with Indigenous communities through existing chapters, including in Klamath Basin, Eastern Montana, Fargo-Moorhead, and the Twin Cities. We are grateful for the direct collaborations with Sovereign Tribal Nations and look forward to building a brighter future for the Indigenous youth who inspire us every day.