On a cloudy May afternoon, the seventh grade students of St. Joseph’s Indian School huddled in prayer before embarking on the trip that has become a spiritual and cultural rite of passage for the school’s students. The journey, which underwent some changes during the pandemic year, was unchanged in its tradition of forming these students into the school’s leaders when school opens next fall.
The smoke from the burning sage used in prayer hung in the air as students boarded the buses that took them to the sacred sites of their Native American Heritage. Over the next five days, they visited Little Bighorn Battlefield, Greasy Grass, Matȟó Thípila (Devil’s Tower), Bear Butte, PeŠlá in the heart of the Black Hills, Black Elk Peak and the Badlands. Weather kept them from Wind Cave and Crazy Horse.
Their spring coursework in Native American Studies class prepared them to understand the spiritual, cultural and historical significance of each site they visited. When possible along the way, they heard from experts.
Upon returning, a St. Joseph’s student named Jordin said, “It meant everything to find out more about my culture. I could feel my ancestors close to me as we walked and drove the sacred places.”
When asked about her favorite part of the trip, she said without hesitating, “Bear Butte. I have so many childhood memories from there. When we got to the top, we tied our prayer ties to a tree. As I walked away, I felt I left all my stress behind.”
Mike Tyrell, the school’s president, joined a two-day leg of the trip.
“I participated in the hike at Bear Butte and heard a presentation by Ben Rhodd, well-known Indigenous archeologist of the Northern Plains. The activities gave students a better understanding of cultural aspects important to the Lakota, Dakota and Nakota people. Though they are young, this experience plants seeds for their future growth.”
On Tuesday, May 25, students gathered in a large conference room on campus to develop presentations about their experience. These presentations are the way they share their learning with younger students and step into their leadership role.
Philámayaye — thank you — to supporters around the world who made opportunities like the Cultural Trip possible. Learn more about the Lakota culture by visiting stjo.org/culture.