Spotlight on Programs: The Brave Heart Society

For nearly a quarter of a century, thanks to our supporters, Running Strong for American Indian Youth® has been able to provide grant funding to the Brave Heart Society (BHS) to support its mission to advocate for and promote better lives among Native youth in the Oceti Sakowin.

The continuing mission of the Brave Heart Society “is to enhance and preserve the Dakota/ Nakota/ Lakota culture for coming generations, thereby creating strong, competent, worldly families with a strong foundation of values, morals and worldview.”

Among the programs operated by the Brave Heart Society and supported by Running Strong are its Coming of Age Ceremonies for boys and girls on the Ihanktonwan and surrounding reservations which have reinstituted traditional rites of passage that were missing for many years, notes founding member and coordinator Faith Spotted Eagle.

The Brave Heart Society is a national leader in revival of the girls’ Rite of Passage ceremony, called the Isnati, which promotes a resiliency among teen girls that Faith and the other Kunsi, or grandmothers who oversee the BHS, have witnessed for the past 20 or so years.

“The Isnati is one of the Seven Sacred Rites of our people, especially dedicated to rearing respectful prideful young women,” explained Faith. “We completed the 21st year of the Coming of Age Ceremony for Native girls and have now impacted the life of 158 Dakota girls and assisted them with cultural decision making skills.”

Faith added that the oldest Isnati “girls” are now women approaching 40 “and we are proud that we have had an influence on them choosing healthy lifestyles through ceremonial teachings. We have proven the effectiveness of this much-needed ceremony. We believe every Native community should reclaim it.”

Also, through direct support from Running Strong, the Brave Heart Society acquired a lodge in 2015 which now allows BHS to serve large community groups.

In March, BHS hosted its 15th Annual Waterlilly Storytelling Institute in which hundreds of participants heard traditional stories firsthand from Native storytellers.

In hosting the storytelling institute, BHS states that it is their firm belief that “it is essential to repair the fragmentation of Dakota family structures that have been crippled by historical trauma.”

One of those fragmentations is the near loss of “Dakota Storytelling,” which was the primary way to teach morals, desired behavior, and the importance of being related, among many other important story values.

The BHS partners with area schools to host its amazing storytellers, often serving an audience of young people and families with numbers as high as 1,000.

The Institute is named after Yankton grandmother/ author/anthropologist, Ella Cara Deloria, who preserved these philosophies in many books, including Waterlily, which is the story of a young Dakota woman of the early 1800’s and how she preserved her integrity as a strong relative.

The first day of this year’s four-day institute focused on Horse Medicine, while Indigenous Science, Native Governance Systems and Cultural Arts/Visual Healing were explored on the following days.

Among this year’s speakers were Tribal Historic Preservation officer Jon Eagle who told of Tasunka, a Lakota horse legend, and Janice Bad Moccasin, a cultural advisor dedicated to teaching others how to restore the body, mind and spirit to the natural state of being through living spirited values and bringing the spirit to life. Bad Moccasin is a cultural transformational healer and equine specialist working with horse wisdom and medicine for healing intergenerational trauma.

Attendees of the Waterlilly Storytelling Institute also heard a program on the life of Deloria (1889-1971) who was born on the Yankton reservation and recorded Native American oral histories and legends.

“We would like to let the supporters of Running Strong know for the last 23 years, your funding we believe has actually saved lives,” said Faith.

“Running Strong very importantly helps us to access the things for youth that no other organizations do because we have our ear to the ground with the help of our Brave Heart youth and families.

“Running Strong helps us to open doors to very dark places and bring light into those spaces.”

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