Growing up in the Lower Sioux Indian Community, home to the Dakota, Vanessa Goodthunder never imagined herself traveling to Washington, D.C., to discuss the needs of her reservation with government leaders.
“My rez doesn’t even have a stoplight,” she jokes.
Nonetheless, Goodthunder’s passion for her Dakota culture and language made her a worthy representative for the Center for Native American Youth. CNAY is a D.C.-based organization that seeks to enhance the overall wellbeing of Native youth through advocacy, policy development and communication.
“There are so many challenges,” Goodthunder says. “We’re number one for diabetes. We’re number one for suicide. We’re number one for alcoholism and alcohol-related deaths. You grow up in it and kind of get use to it, and that’s kind of sad.”
Yet, the 22-year-old refuses to let “the bad statistics” hold her back. She studied history and American Indian studies—Dakota language track—for her bachelor’s degree at the University of Minnesota and begins the teacher licensing program in June. Her goal is to teach high school social studies and incorporate American Indian history in her curriculum.