Day two of our stay as guests of the Lakota people was more impactful than the first, and if there is one theme that rang true for me throughout the day it was that of “discovery.”
We started our day at Little Wound School, a vibrant building designed in the shape of a buffalo, or tatanka, with about 900 students in grades K through 12. Two smiling second grade boys greeted us at the door with ceremonial sage burning in a beautiful smudge bowl made from abalone shell. We gathered in a circle with the school’s superintendent, Dr. Anthony Fairbanks, and Dayna Brave Eagle to each take a turn ushering the sweet smoke over our heads twice in the traditional cleansing custom. As the two young boys giggled away after the blessing, Dr. Fairbanks explained how the morning “Circle Up” meeting with the students helps support a positive school culture, and promotes Lakota culture as well. While we get to know one another, he graciously inquires about each of our dissertation topics. When we ask him about his dissertation, he explains that “Walking in Two Worlds” was a study on how Native students navigate Western culture and Lakota culture in order to discover their true identities.
If there is one thing that Dr. Fairbanks, Dayna and her equally wise middle daughter, Sica, know well, it is that schools and communities on Pine Ridge are places to support young people on their journey of identity discovery. We walked the halls of Little Wound to see classes on Lakota history and culture led by Native teachers, incredible murals depicting buffalo hunt scenes with traditionally dressed Lakota on horseback, old photographs of Chief Little Wound, and posters espousing the Oglala Lakota tribe’s core values. Dayna and Dr. Fairbanks are trying to help young students discover their Lakota identities so that they can walk successfully in “two worlds.”
Listen to the needs of a new principal on a poverty-crippled reservation in South Dakota in the latest #B@CKCH@NNELedu Episode 07. Also learn about the #aussieED chat on cultural perspectives inspired by the #pennlakota15 trip to study Pine Ridge reservation.
How would YOU support Principal Lawson's need for a "mid-career" leadership refresher?
Our @MCDPEL #pennlakota15 team (above) just returned from a week on the #PineRidge reservation. Before we traveled to this struggling South Dakota reservation, many of us watched the ABC News segment (below) hosted by Diane Sawyer where she followed reservation life for a year and a half. This piece is now three and a half years old. View the video below to set a visual "backdrop" for the blogs that will follow here over the next 10 days. To follow along, add your email address to the "SUBSCRIBE TO EMAIL UPDATES" tab on the right hand side of this page. The following video contains strong content.
I love my country. This country is all I know. My fathers family can trace 8 generations in the North East. I always felt a sense of pride knowing every male in my family served in every war except for my brother. I always thought our country was the greatest as I was taught about all that we did and all that we accomplished. I was always reminded of various perspectives from my father as he would share his opinions, his truths and history as really occurred. He always wanted me to have the perspective from all not one; not the dominant culture but all.
I have always been impressed by the boarding school model as they prepare children for colleges and intellectual thinking. For some inner city youths it gives them opportunities that they may never receive. As we know boarding schools have been in existence for several centuries. Today these boarding schools may cost up to $55,000+. When we hear that one attended a boarding school we often light up and assume this person is highly educated, well rounded and may come from a wealthy family. In some cases programs such as Prep for Prep or Oliver to name a few may attend Boarding Schools through a scholarship or partial scholarship. These schools are usually on acres of land far from the city with a sense of peace on the grounds and in the walls. That peace lived in some who attended boarding schools but not all. If you were Native American you may have been taken from your family or your family may have had no choice and you attended this boarding school that was created to civilize the Native Americans. As we know Native Americans are depicted in the old Western films as savages and as wild individuals with skinned heads and Mohawks however this is the perception that was engrained by many through television and sometimes books. Our history was told to us and shared by way of one perspective. We know the old depiction Blacks were slaves, Native Americans run wild through the woods on horses fighting whites and families are separated causing for one to loose their identity. Some may perceive their understanding of boarding schools for Native Americans as a way to cultivate a people. However, at what cost. At what cost do we cultivate people? At what cost do we take ones identity? Who benefits? Dependent upon ones viewpoint or perception the concept of a boarding school may appear to level the playing field for Native Americans however when children attended the boarding school they were forced to cut their hair, dress a particular way, loose their language and traditions. Those who were darker skinned which are considered Full Blood were bathed in lye or kerosene. My neighbors fuel their home with kerosene. Lye is used in some hair products to straighten ones hair. Lye burns and can actual burn ones skin off. These methods were used to lighten and strip the Native Americans of their color. Those who were darker were too dark were forced to have their skin lightened.
I think about the way in which people spend millions of dollars per year tanning at a salon, traveling to the Carribean and using bronzers to darken their skin. I can now understand why so many people of color have issues with their identity; their concept of beauty and their concept of self. I can understand why some not all but some present day Native Americans are ashamed to speak in their tongue, ashamed to celebrate in their Native dance and ashamed of their culture. Native Americans like African Americans were expected to release their song, release their voice and release their tradition. When you strip one of their culture you strip them of self. How do we heal people who have had so much taken? How do we build pride and self when our history has damaged our soul? How do we move forward when the past may haunt us? Our history as told by the dominant culture is often told in a tongue that makes it palpable to accept yet when our history (referring to our American History) is told from the tongue of several we hear the harsh truths of our America. Our America with all its beauty has its faults. Our America has several stories to tell through many voices and perspectives. Our America is made from a tapestry of fabrics that interlock at each end. Our America must tell its story from the voice of all its people.
Take a moment to think of the place in our schools that you are able to hold community meetings, gatherings and center your school community. Below are photos of the Little Wound Mustangs gymnasium that serves the school community during the school hours; as well as the community as a whole hosting funerals and large events to celebrate and/or pay homage to the deceased. While many may find fault with hosting tributes or funeral processions at a school during non-school hours the schools are the only locations to hold the number of people who may attend in the Lakota reservation. In other words, the school is the only physical structure that can support the community in this fashion. Essentially the school serves as everything for everyone beyond the daily school life. This allowed me to broaden my understanding of the purpose of our schools. I began to think about how how we can utilize them to serve as the center of our community. While most of us are fortunate to have funeral homes and religious institutions to host events of this nature we certainly may need to consider how our schools serve the community. Are we utilizing our schools to be the center of the community? Are we gathering our school community together to connect and energize our children and staff? How are our school building being used during non-school hours. Can we begin to assess our building usage and explore the types of support we are providing our families beyond school hours. In some communities the concept of dentists and doctors on site have proven to work in Harlem Children's Zone. Why can't we begin to consider our school buildings to serve the community integrating mental health support for children and families, behavioral supports, social service and Adult Education to name a few. Our schools serves larger purposes. In order to meet the needs of the community we must consider utilizing our schools as a space that both welcomes and serves the entire community: Student, Parent and Community.
Today we drove the long stretches of road on the Pine Ridge Reservation with our incredibly generous and charismatic host, Dayna Brave Eagle, the Director of the Tribal Education Agency for the Lakota people. My view was stunning— rolling hills that seemed to never end and a sky so expansive that I couldn’t help but feel so very, very small. I understand how this land is sacred to the Lakota people.
The histories of our country’s indigenous people have been left out of our history textbooks, and their voices are still missing from the national discourse on minority education today. Perhaps too few of us realize that Native American students are actually the lowest performing minority group in the United States, and that there is an achievement gap within the achievement gap when we compare Native American student achievement to the achievement of other minority groups in this country. Why? How? Where is the Native American voice in our conversations as educational leaders?
Tomorrow we join Dayna as guests in two Lakota schools to learn and to exchange ideas. Today, however, I was reminded of just how much Lakota history is missing from western textbooks and university lectures. The picture below captures the 19th and 20th century history of the Lakota people from their perspective, from their voice, and written by theirhand. It is marked onto the column of the entrance to the Wounded Knee burial site and is a powerful chronicle of how much the Lakota people have had to overcome, together.
Our morning conversation with Pine Ridge Tribal Education Agency Director Dayna Brave Eagle resonated strongly with me. She lives up to her name as a woman with a quick mind, insightful eye and passionate spirit. She has a speaking style that invites listening. As she spoke about youth suicides and the suffering of women on the Pine Ridge Reservation she said, “When do we say no more? Maybe our generation is not healthy enough…maybe the next generation.”
Dayna has certainly championed making positive change in her community now but I think she is right in saying that the community may not have the strength needed to end this cycle today. In this age of quick fixes and technological connections we often forget to plan a multigenerational approach that can support communities as they make changes to move from merely surviving, to sustaining and hopefully thriving.
Dayna spoke about the importance of support systems for helping youth succeed. She said she was “done talking” to adults and began a program called Champions of Hope. These events are sponsored by her office and are hosted in local communities. Dayna’s staff set up cookouts at local playgrounds and basketball courts and children can gather to eat food, draw with chalk play ball and blow bubbles. Children have a safe space to voice what they need to overcome youth suicide.
Questions to ponder:
How often do we go to our communities?
How often do we lift up the voices of our children and students?
I am challenging myself to rethink how I interact with my community.
I'm sitting here at Philadelphia International Airport ready to board my flight to Denver then onto Rapid City, South Dakota. From there I'll drive 90 minutes to the Pine Ridge reservation. Upon arrival, I'll join our #pennlakota15 team made up of students, alumni, faculty and an out of network guest to reside on arguably the most challenging environment for students, educators and parents in our country.
Site of Wounded Knee
When one of our doctoral students brought up the idea of visiting the Pine Ridge reservation for this year's @MCDPEL study trip, I'm ashamed to admit but I had to Google it. It's not that I didn't learn about Wounded Knee or the Sioux Indians in high school - we did. I recall the topic was part of a unit with a test at the end never to be revisited again in formal schooling, or in life for that matter. That was in the early 1990s. Here I sit, twenty-five years later in a different place in my life. I'm more conscious of what is going on around me not only in my own area, but across our country on general, and especially in the area of education. Most importantly, I'm about as aware as I've ever been of my own choice as a human being. I can continue to ignore it and keep riding my own "white" and other privileges, or I can take an active role in supporting my neighbors to the west both physically and virtually.
Here's the video I watched that immediately brought me back to my own schooling, to understand the carnage that took place on the Pine Ridge Reservation in 1890.
That was only 125 years ago. From what I've read and learned over the past couple months leading up to this trip, the reservation continues to operate in a state of emergency. Youth suicide is at an all-time high. Poverty on Pine Ridge has been described as "third world." Homes are overcrowded, as those with homes take in whoever needs a roof over their heads. Many homes are without running water, and without sewer service.
You get the idea, but below are a few more statistics on PIne Ridge if you didn't think it could get any worse (via US. Census Bureau):
Unemployment rate of 80-90%
Per capita income of $4,000
8 Times the United States rate of diabetes
5 Times the United States rate of cervical cancer
Twice the rate of heart disease
8 Times the United States rate of Tuberculosis
Alcoholism rate estimated as high as 80%
1 in 4 infants born with fetal alcohol syndrome or effects
Suicide rate more than twice the national rate
Teen suicide rate 4 times the national rate
Infant mortality is three times the national rate
Life expectancy on Pine Ridge is the lowest in the United States and the 2nd lowest in the Western Hemisphere. Only Haiti has a lower rate.
*Just like our schools, there are students, teachers, parents, principals, leaders and policymakers on this reservation trying to learn, grow, survive and enjoy life. I'm incredibly curious to talk to those who have lived here for some time. What role has our government taken over the years? What is working? What isn't? Where is the sense of urgency? These study goals are my focus for the next six days in an area of my own country that I have never been.
Another Resource from fellow #pennlakota15 study team member:
Do U.S. citizens care enough to support communities like Pine Ridge?
If you read the news in print, on TV or online, you see that we have relationships with countries all over the world - for a wide range of agendas. Our #pennlakota15 trip is not just another effort to share transparently with the terrible living conditions present for reservation natives, but to attempt to understand what true needs are present that not only funding but innovation might support in the future. As we've shared with Dayna Brave Eagle, the Director of Education on Pine Ridge, we'd ike this trip to be a start of a collaboration where we, along with other eductors in the field, can provide differentiated supports, networks and structures to our fellow Americans to the west.
Throughout the week, there will be information, opionions, facts, interviews, circumstances and challenges shared in real-time here on our blog as well as on the #pennlakota15 hashtag. I encourage you to step up and be involved in this conversation around where the windows of opportunity may lie for those of us who live near AND far from Pine Ridge.
Wondering about something? Click the "Ask Us here" image and we'll do our best to learn and share.
Studying on the Pine Ridge reservation (South Dakota)
Each year, students, alumni, faculty and PLN friends attend a trip to broaden their respective lens as leaders in the field. Past study trips have focused on Finland and Alaska, and this year, Anna Carello (c13) has planned the trip to South Dakota with support from the Department of Education, the Department of Interior and the Oglala Lakota College.