The Native American community, like so many other minority groups, faces great hardships in the twenty-first century. As evidenced in PBS’ new documentary, Up Heartbreak Hill the Native American community still faces issues such as alcoholism and drug use. This applies not just to the adults of said community, but to its youth, too. These and other issues play a large role in the expectations of Native American youth in terms of changing that culture and making something better for themselves. In this new special, audiences see that perhaps that culture is beginning to change as they watch three high school seniors prepare for the waning days of their public school career and make some very tough decisions about the next step in their lives.
Audiences are introduced to Thomas, Tamara, and Gabby in Up Heartbreak Hill. All three are preparing to graduate from high school and go out into the world. Just as with any other young person today, they face the same teen drama. At one point, there’s a falling out between Thomas and Tamara because Tamara’s parents get involved in the teens’ graduation planning. In Thomas’ eyes, they take over all the planning. As a result, Tamara takes the brunt of the teens’ ire. Thomas faces his own pressures as he finishes his high school cross country “career.” He has to decide if he’s going to go on to college and run for said college’s cross country team. And then there’s Gabby. Gabby admits early on that at one point she herself was a drug user. However she goes on to note that she has since gotten cleaned up. Gabby is perhaps the one that everyone will watch more than Thomas and Tamara. She reaches a point where she almost becomes another statistic, as she says she’s not sure if she’s cut out for college. But thanks to the support of her boyfriend, that changes.
All three of the teens featured in this special want to go to college originally. But as noted, they each face their own challenges. One of the biggest hurdles facing not just these three, but so many minority schools, is lack of school funding. The teens’ school is even more underfunded than other schools across the country, thus greatly decreasing educational opportunities for the students. Despite this and all of the other challenges facing them, Thomas, Tamara, and Gabby all end up going to college in the end. Thomas’ closing statement is the most telling of the entire special. He notes that the view of the older generation of Native Americas needs to change because the current generation actually does care about doing something better with their lives. That statement, and that all three teens went on to college, gives hope for so many other youths that it is possible to overcome those challenges.
There are those who would be naysayers to this documentary. They argue that it isn’t a full enough cross section of what young minorities endure. Given it isn’t a full cross section. But so much of what the teens face here is the same as what so many other teen minorities face today. So it makes them a fitting sample of what minority groups in general face. It makes this piece that much more impactful. Audiences can check it out for themselves, as the DVD is available now. It can be ordered online via PBS’s website at http://www.shoppbs.org.
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