Facing the 'Poverty of Dreams' on America's Indian Reservations

By Billy Mills

Today, the biggest crisis on America's poverty-stricken Indian reservations isn't the desperate lack of food and resources, the teen suicide, substance abuse or the alarmingly high rate of school dropouts.

The biggest problem we face today is the "Poverty of Dreams."

Too many children are giving up and surrendering their futures. Too many are living in such overwhelming poverty that they just can't imagine a better life.

I once had a dream of reaching the Olympics, and now I want to help others realize their dreams. That is why I started the Dreamstarter™ project with Running Strong for American Indian Youth®.

Launched as a way to honor the 50th anniversary of my 10,000-meter run Olympic gold medal, this program gives away grants to fund the dreams of Native youth that improve their communities, empowering young people to identify a problem in their tribe and work toward solving it.

Each year, 10 young Native Americans with thought-provoking ideas to improve their communities will be selected to receive the funds and the necessary logistical support to make their dreams a reality.

We must teach these young people that we believe in them. If they can see real, meaningful results from their dreams and these worthy projects, imagine what they will reach for and achieve next?

Meet the Dreamers

Cristin Haase

Cristin Haase, 24
Cristin's dream, "Mentorship for Future American Indian Dentists," has implemented a mentorship program to attract American Indian dental students. The program provides information on admissions, the application process, prerequisite courses and mentorship during their studies.

Rashaun Nez

Rashaun Nez, 20
Rashaun's dream is "Navajo Youth Builders" to improve the strength and well-being of his community by creating fitness and wellness classes that address dire health issues such as obesity and diabetes.