Asset-based community development is the road to transformation.
That transformation is necessary to address our most pressing social problems as Indigenous people. According to the Indigenous Futures Survey conducted by Illuminative, the Native Organizers Alliance, and the Center for Native American Youth, most Indigenous people in Nevada listed mental health as a top community concern in 2020. The epidemic of COVID-19 that has ravaged our communities has only exacerbated the mental unwellness of the People.
The crisis of mental unwellness among Indigenous people is rooted in settler-colonialism. Melanie Yazzie, a Diné professor of Native American Studies at the University of New Mexico, said, "I think most Indigenous women are not taught to love [themselves]" due to the structures of oppression that trap us in our current conditions. Racism and patriarchy teach Indigenous women and nonbinary people to hate themselves against the bloody backdrop of the epidemic of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, and two-spirit people (MMIWG2S). These traumas inevitably affect how we treat ourselves and each other. We are blanketed in prayers, loved by our ancestors and the Land, but colonization prevents many Indigenous people from the embrace of mental wellness.
Designing our communities around our assets is necessary to extricate ourselves from internalized colonization. In Indian Country today, we are forced to view ourselves in terms of what we lack rather than what we have. By focusing on our strengths through asset-based thinking, we center the value that every relative brings to the table. Asset-based thinking allows us to transform the way we think about ourselves. It provides a roadmap to self-love. And on the road to self-love, we can learn how to discard the deficit mentality instilled in us by hundreds of years of colonization.
Asset-based community development has already been beneficial to Native people, particularly schools. Jacob Tsotigh, a citizen of the Kiowa tribe, objected to "impoverished" to describe Native communities because it focused on deficits. Tsotigh argued that Tribal nations, operating by collective values, can increase their well-being by focusing on asset-based thinking - which has been proved to link to improved cognitive processing.
Asset-based thinking is how we can begin to address the effects of colonization on ourselves. To truly address our mental health crisis, we need to celebrate our Indigeneity. We need to construct our futures around our strengths as Indigenous people. That means embracing every relative as valuable and essential. That means ensuring all relatives can have a say in how we shape and envision the next seven generations.
There is no wasted energy; our strengths and struggles pave the road to self-love.