He was mocked for his hair, called a 'girl', and was pushed once. Another time, kids threw a metal water bottle at him on the bus.
Bullying often leaves kids traumatized and without help for years. Nathan Solorio, a 15-year-old who himself was bullied for his long hair, now wants to make sure that other Indigenous children get help during those distressing times. Solorio is a high school student in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, and is a descendant of Brokenhead Ojibway First Nation and Roseau River Anishinabe First Nation. He and his 11-year-old brother are the only Indigenous kids at school. He was mocked for his hair, called a "girl" and pushed, reported TODAY. Once, the other kids also threw a metal water bottle at him on the bus. He was constantly bullied and told that he is "not Native" and that he was "Hispanic" because his father is Mexican. The bullying became so bad that Nathan cut his hair. "From a young age, that hurts," he said. But none of these things stopped him from following his cultural traditions.
Solorio said, “I wear my hair long because my ancestors weren’t allowed to when they were forced to go to residential schools." He referred to a movement that started in the 19th century in which Indigenous kids were pushed to attend boarding schools which destroyed their culture through abuse and indoctrination.
When he couldn't take the bullying anymore, he told his mother, Misty Solorio, about it. She herself had been bullied while studying in a predominantly white school in central Pennsylvania. "Many times growing up, I was ashamed of my black hair and how I looked," Misty said. "I used to wish for blond hair and blue eyes." Misty learned to value her long hair once she began to connect to her community. "I am so proud of my ancestors, my community, and my family," she said. "I am the spiritual keeper for my sons. My hair represents my strength, my life experience, my knowledge."
She slowly started to participate more in her cultural traditions like the "Jingle Dress Dance" which originates from the Ojibwe people. "I dance, for myself, but also for others when there is a need for healing," said Misty. In 2021, Nathan started joining his mother at powwows, which are cultural celebrations in which dancers wear dresses adorned with cones that make music with movement. That's where he became empowered to help other bullied children.
Nathan was nominated for a "25 Under 25 Native Youth Leadership Program" award by a family friend through the United National Indian Tribal Youth (UNITY). To apply for the program, children develop projects to improve the lives of Indigenous kids. Nathan pitched an anti-bullying organization called Heart Medicine. The goal behind it is to connect kids over Zoom or at powwows and come together to talk about feeling isolated, take one another's support, and develop pride in their culture.
"We'll work alongside Native and non-Native youth, ages 24 and under, on reservations, urban spaces, and rural and suburbs, across the country to improve mental and emotional health," said Nathan. Recently he was named one of UNITY’s "25 people under 25" and will get a grant to fund his platform. He is also a Northeast regional representative with the National UNITY Council, as an elected peer leader. "Nathan has a go-getter mentality and UNITY wholeheartedly supports his efforts to make his community a better place," said Mary Kim Titla, the executive director of UNITY. "I can't wait to see what the future holds for Nathan and other Native youth like him who are not waiting to be leaders of the future — they're leading now."
SHOUT OUT: The United National Indian Tribal Youth (UNITY) announced its 25 Under 25 Leadership Award recipients and we are #WestShoreProud to share that Nathan Solorio, upcoming 10th grade student in our CAOLA program, was selected for this national recognition! Congrats Nathan! pic.twitter.com/YivGdIoD8C— West Shore S.D. (@WestShoreSD) June 8, 2022
Nathan is now working toward creating an online presence for Heart Medicine. They held their first Zoom meeting in September in which 10 children who are between 15 and 17 participated. "We introduced ourselves, played break-the-ice games, and talked about being Indigenous," said Nathan. "Two non-Indigenous kids came who tried to understand (our experiences)," he concluded.