The Oglala Sioux live on the Pine Ridge Reservation. The Pine Ridge is a land of contrasts. The rolling prairies and lack of roads, gas stations, chain restaurants, and convenience stores free up landscape vistas. There is almost no litter along the highway and many people walk along side. There are long distances between poor but close-knit communities where the schools, health centers, Oglala Lakota College centers share pride of place.
I had recently learned that reservations are sovereign entities equivalent to the states. During my encounters at Pine Ridge, I found it important to respect this separateness and to be vigilant about questioning my assumptions. At the same time, I intended to be mindful of and to foster connection-making whenever I could to Badlands National Park, the school curriculums, and place.
Lady of Lourdes School
I drove almost 2 hours from the Park to my first assignment, Lady of Lourdes school. I received a warm welcome. The principal told me how much the community appreciates this outreach especially since they have no budget for art supplies and instruction. A possible donation opportunity?
I taught 3rd thru 5th graders to make kites inspired by the Badlands landscape and prairie ecosystem. We connected the functions of kite string, sail, struts, and tail to prairie grass structures. I was surprised to learn that the majority of students had never visited Badlands National Park. (Note to self: prepare for next gig with more visual references and continue to be mindful of the distances that separate us even to this day.)
Interesting spiritual connections here... The school site contains a grotto where an elder of the tribe was visited by a holy woman. Thus the name of this Catholic school, Lady of Lourdes, harkens to when St. Bernadette was visited by a beautiful, holy Lady in a grotto near Lourdes (France) in 1858. I taught in the school's chapel and noticed these beautiful Lakota 10 commandments:
1) Treat the Earth and all that dwell therein with respect.
2) Remain close to the Great Spirit
3) Show great respect for your fellow beings
4) Work together for the benefit of all Mankind
5) Give assistance and kindness wherever needed
6) Do what you know to be right
7) Look after the well-being of Mind and Body
8) Dedicate a share of your efforts to the greater Good
9) Be truthful and honest at all times
10) Take full responsibility for your actions
Wounded Knee School
Wounded Knee School is near where the massacre of the same name took place. The community is very poor. A teacher told me that no one in his students' families was employed. Yet, the school was clean with attractive cultural symbols decorating the halls. Noteworthy too - the 5h grade students I taught were even less familiar with the Badlands National Park landscape than those from Lady of Lourdes.
I taught a kite-making class as a break from a week of standardized testing. In contrast to the right and wrong answers engendered by the tests, we had fun talking about artistic sovereignty where each of their expressions is valid. One student asked whether hair stylists could be artists. What fun it was connecting the images that decorated their kites to hair styles - from wind-blown nonchalance to that "big hair" look inspired by buffalo! The class had recently learned about simile and metaphor in language arts classes; so we discussed what a visual metaphor was using the wind as an example - here the students came up with a variety of conceptions of how the wind looks.
Here, the long-standing, familiar and positive relationship the park has established with Kadoka teachers and school administration felt more like collaboration than outreach. In time, I predict the Park's educational outreach will continue to grow these positive relationsips and bridge the many gaps found in its outlying communities. I am so grateful for having been given this opportunity for a second time. Many thanks to the Badlands Natural History Association (BNHA) for its support of this educational outreach. http://www.badlandsnha.org . I found Gregory Gagnon's book, "Pine Ridge Reservation, Yesterday and Today", 2nd edition very helpful. It is available from the BNHA bookstore.