Sitting at a campfire in Northport, MI in 2012 Brandon Ahmicasaube Smith and his parents discussed the decline in opportunities and programs for youth in the Native American community. After much thought and prayer Brandon was inspired to create a program for the Native youth that would give them opportunities to develop new skills, improve grades and build self-esteem. Thus Spirit Journey was born.
In order to understand the need for Spirit Journey, one must look to the past. The European Invasion brought disease, starvation and war, killing 90% of the Native population. Treaties were made, only to be broken and this led to the massacre of millions. For over 140 years in an effort to “civilize” the indigenous people, the government collaborated with many religious organizations to open Indian Boarding Schools. Often with force, these children were taken from their homes in handcuffs, hair was cut, and clothing was replaced with uniforms. Some were given numbers instead of names and were punished if they spoke their native language. Physical and sexual abuse was prevalent. Many did not see their families for as long as thirteen years. Today, most natives cannot speak their native language. There is a resurgence, however to bring this back by conducting language classes on the reservations. These atrocities created generations of defense mechanisms, behavioral issues and developmental deficiencies. This has created historical trauma and has become part of their DNA. Native Americans have the highest dropout rate, suicides, substance abuse, sexual abuse and domestic violence of any ethnic group.
With the understanding of the past, there became an urgent desire and passion to be involved with positive change. Since 2013, Spirit Journey participants have experienced many activities:
- Weekend Basketball Tournament hosting thirteen Native teams throughout various tribes in Michigan.
- After School Tutoring Program providing assistance, meals, and gym time, raising their grades to As & Bs.
- Field trips to Univ. of Louisville and Ball State to meet two Native American sisters who played college basketball for Univ. of Louisville.
- Trip to Cedar Point for tutored students.
- Christmas Parties and gifts for all.
- Week long overnight camp in August of each year. This is the highlight of our program serving 50 youth ages 8-14 yrs. of age.
We commit to inspire and empower Native American youth to live healthy Ahnishnabe lifestyles, building self-esteem and respect for all. We currently work with Native youth in the Grand Traverse region, home to over 400, ages 0-18.
Our Future Plans
Our dream is to expand the camp throughout the summer to enable Natives in Michigan to experience this life changing event. Some of the camps will focus on sports, music and the arts. The tutoring program will be enlarged with volunteer tutors to accommodate more of those needing assistance. Our vision is to see Spirit Journey serve as a model mission for Native communities around the U.S.