Blaze, a 16-year-old sophomore in his Native American studies program, came to the mind of his Native American Studies program teacher in 2015 as the ideal Dreamstarter candidate with an already-impressive resume: President of the Round Valley High School Native American Club; a community Wailaki (a nearly-lost Native American language) language teacher; and a Bear Dance drummer.

In addition, Blaze was enjoying learning how to play his traditional stick game Kyin-naal-del’, and teaching the game to his peers was his dream.

“Kyin-naal-del’ is a traditional Wailaki stick game played by males,” Blaze explained in his Dreamstarter application. “My idea is to teach other young Native boys to play this traditional game by starting a Kyin-naal-del’ training program. We will train a group of local high school Native boys and interested community males to be trainers. Participants will learn the cultural rules governing Kyin-naal-del’ and learn to carve the sticks needed for the game.”

Blaze not only realized his dream during his 2016 grant year, but for the past two years has continued to receive support through Running Strong’s “Keep the Dream Alive” program which has provided him grants of $5,000 each year to do just that.

Cheryl Tuttle, Native American Studies Director at Round Valley High School, reported this month that in doing so, dozens of young boys have learned to play the game of their ancestors, and in many cases changing their lives.

Among them is Hawk, a 7th-grader who Cheryl describes as being “naturally good at the stick game,” and noting that he doesn’t play any other sports.

“By providing the stick game that he excels in, it gives him more confidence and self-esteem among his peers. Hawk also excels at the Wailaki language,” she added. “By including his Native culture in school, it has encouraged him and helped him want to belong to his peer and school community, therefore his participation in activities as has increased.”

My mentor Cheryl and I were both flown out to Washington, D.C. I had never been to D.C., so I was very excited and nervous at the same time. During our time in D.C., we met the staff, other grant recipients, and started to get to know everyone right away the first day. Then we were put through a series of beneficial trainings on how to properly present ourselves in a personal interview, and how to present ourselves on camera. They even helped us develop our social media pages, so that we could reach more people about our Dream. After the trainings we went to the museums and went sightseeing on a tour bus in the evening, it was very exciting! 

 With the help from Running Strong staff and Billy Mills, they turned my dream into a reality. I put on free basketball camps for the youth on the Standing Rock Reservation and the Urban area of Bismarck, ND. The camps were called, “Spark Change Basketball Camps.” I always found solace on the basketball court. The sport helped me cope with my difficult childhood when I bounced in and out of foster care. With this camp, I was able to express to the youth that they can be successful in whatever they pursue, with hard work and dedication. No matter the circumstances they come from, the homes they come from, and that it is possible to have a dream become a reality. It has been such an honor to be a Dreamstarter. This opportunity gave me the chance to help the Native Youth live healthier lives and hope for brighter futures.  

I am currently working for Running Strong for American Indian Youth. I was hired on for a new position called, “Running Strong Fellow.” This position gives me the freedom to create new ideas, start a foundation, and create a platform for future Fellows.

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