Men's Health (USA)

DEFENDING MY HISTORY

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second-leading cause of death for Native youth, two and a half times the national rate.

And an increasing number of Native American young people, like Tamez-Pochel, who identifies as First Nations Cree and Sicangu Lakota, are growing up in cities rather than on reservatio­ns. Today, the greater Chicago area has the ninth-largest urban population of Native Americans in the country, with nearly 65,000. Research has shown that urban Native Americans have worse physical- and mental-health problems than those living on reservatio­ns, largely because of poor health-care access and a limited sense of community.

Displaced and without a feeling of connection to his people, Tamez-Pochel realized he had work to do. “Later on down the line, we have to make sure that when my parents aren’t here, we’re set up to fight against injustice,” he says.

So Tamez-Pochel; his brother, Adrien; and several Native friends formed the Chi-Nations Youth Council. Tamez-Pochel has been a council copresiden­t for the past five years. Its 15 members work to promote Native American culture through activism and education. In the spring of 2017, his aunt Janie and his brother had the idea of creating a space for Native youth

to connect and pass down tradition. They even had a place in mind—a large, grassy area spanning five city lots in their Albany Park neighborho­od.

About a year and a half later, with the support of the alderman representi­ng Chicago’s 35th Ward, Carlos Ramirez-Rosa, they had a proposal. By November 2018, they’d leased the spot and held a ceremony with the city.

And by the spring of 2019, they’d opened the First Nations Community Garden to the public. At its center stands a traditiona­l wigwam. “The wigwam is kind of like a beacon,” Tamez-Pochel says. Now in its second year, the garden is yielding enough vegetables for locals to take home.

A junior at Harold Washington College studying social work, Tamez-Pochel wants to help find homes for displaced Native young people through foster care. Not houses, but homes—places of support and connection—like the second home he’s found in the First Nations Community Garden. He wants young people to see that garden as a place of comfort, where they can feel their ancestry and empowermen­t.

“Like in my tribes, it’s very much like someone coming into your home,” Tamez-Pochel says of the garden. “You take care of them.”

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 ??  ?? SEEDS OF CHANGE: Anthony Tamez-Pochel in Chicago’s First Nations Community Garden.
SEEDS OF CHANGE: Anthony Tamez-Pochel in Chicago’s First Nations Community Garden.

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