Our 36th annual powwow is in the books! I’m weary, but it’s the good kind of tired from a wonderful day.
As visitors streamed onto campus, they boarded our mini buses and were shuttled around campus for morning tours of Our Lady of the Sioux Chapel and four of the residential homes where the boys and girls live on St. Joseph’s campus. Houseparents prepared snacks for our guests, and students volunteered to give tours of the homes. The most enthusiastic were the 1st – 3rd grade girls of Afra Home, who at times led people by the hand, tugging them along to see the playroom or laundry and tell them about all they’ve already learned from life in the Home.
Our students were polite, respectful, excited and touched people’s hearts. Our ever-present blue-shirted St. Joseph’s staff members drew countless praise as they made folks feel welcome, answered questions and made sure people had directions to the places they needed to go next.
Dave, our powwow arena director, kept things moving along and made sure people were in the right place and time for ceremonies and competitions. Virgil, our PA announcer entertained with humorous banter, encouraged dancers and educated visitors with his explanations of what they were seeing on the powwow grounds.
Besides our own St. Joseph students, many young people came from surrounding areas. When 150 dancers processed in during the Grand Entry, the colorful spectacle was a beauty to behold. We had ten drum groups rotating the songs, including our St. Joseph’s student group – “the Chalk Hills Singers”
The last couple of years, weather for the powwow has been on the cool side. Today, the sun was out much of the day and temperatures climbed into the high 80’s. The energetic dancers certainly worked up a good sweat! Spectators coveted the shady spots and more than a few took a mid-day break in our air-conditioned Akta Lakota Museum.
At supper we served stew and fixings at the picnic pavilion, feeding over 900 guests, students and family members. After the judges’ points were totaled, we announced the award winning dancers and passed out prizes. As the sun set over the majestic Missouri River and people headed home with pictures and memories, our facilities crew was already tearing down and putting the football field back to it’s normal configuration. Next year’s powwow will be the weekend of September 21, so make your plans now to join us!
Since the high school students have returned, I’ve tried to spend some time in their homes, catching up on their summer activities and looking ahead to what they hope to accomplish this year. Since school is just beginning and there’s not yet a lot of homework or ballgames, it’s a good time to catch more of the students at home.
The other night at Hogebach Home (HS girls) we enjoyed a home cooked meal around a full table, with no one having to rush off. Erika, one of our seniors, was at the kitchen counter with job applications from four different fast food restaurants and two retailers in town. She is ambitious about trying to find a part-time job that will help with extra-curricular expenses now and begin to put some money away for college.
Another one of the students was feeling very overwhelmed thinking of all that she had to accomplish between now and graduation. Our houseparents and counselors are aware of such feelings and support our students through it all, encouraging them to work at projects slow and steady, in manageable chunks.
Our powwow committee had its first full meeting of the year. We’ve been doing this for 36 years, and have the routine down pretty good. When Tom, our head of facilities, was asked during the maintenance report/ update if he had any concerns, he simply said, “I hate to brag, but our guys got it all covered.” And they do. It takes a huge amount of work and lots of cooperation from every department on campus. It is a special duty and definitely worth the effort for staff, students and our visitors.
With all our Native American students now back, we enjoyed an opening school liturgy and picnic. Our picnic pavilion is still filled with furniture from our remodeling projects, so we decided to hold it in the dining hall. With the temperature at 92 degrees the air-conditioned area definitely worked out better. Some of the homes did choose to eat outside on the picnic tables. Seeing the students in small groups of about 8 to a table gave me the chance to walk around and visit. Between seeing students at school, church, in the homes and on the playground, it reinforces my memory and makes it easier to learn who each of the new kids are.
At school the 1st graders are still learning the basics. Teachers have their own system to get them to line up and move to a different activity, be it art, recess, lunch or Native American Studies. But it takes a while for them to settle down and they take a lot more time to get between point A and B. Given time and practice, they’ll soon settle into the routine.
The construction at the Akta Lakota Museum took an interesting turn as the workers used a crane to install the granite slabs that will be part of the water wall in the Medicine Wheel Garden. We hope that by the end of the month all the outside work will be completed.
Our younger students who remain on St. Joseph’s Indian School’s campus take part in a mix of summer school and field trips. Yesterday I was running errands in the business office and saw a group of them taking a tour. When asked what was the best part, Louie replied, “the mail machines.”
The kids were fascinated to watch our staff load cards and bookmarks and dreamcatchers into envelopes bound for all parts of the country and beyond. Two were very tickled when they saw their very own picture on the outside of one of the envelopes. While it is a good education for our Lakota students to learn how things are done and made, it is also a boost to our development staff when they get to interact more directly with the students. They’re reminded of the reason they do the demanding work of raising funds for our mission.
This week has brought more organizational meetings. I reviewed goals with the Director of Child Services at his annual performance evaluation. It’s helpful to step back and see what gifts an employee brings, and talk about possible growth areas. I met with the architects, Akta Lakota Museum designers and facilities crew getting caught up on the many work projects going full speed on campus. If you visit St. Joseph’s Indian School you’ll find lots of disarray in the midst of construction, but in the end we are making some great improvements.
Today I’m off to the ordination of three priests for the Diocese in Sioux Falls. When I attend such celebrations I catch a bit of the enthusiasm and idealism I remember from when I was first ordained. When mixed with the experience and wisdom of 23 years of priestly ministry, hopefully I can inspire others to search for God’s will in their life, and act with charity and justice toward their neighbors.
I’ll be on the road for a few weeks, and yesterday I lined up some guest bloggers who will keep you posted on what’s going on around campus during that time. Next week is pure vacation, with no work; relaxing time with family and friends is the only item on the agenda.
I’ll check in periodically, but it is healthy to take some time off and turn the responsibility for ongoing work to others who care and are passionate about St. Joseph’s Indian School’s mission.
Sometimes, I’m totally surprised to see things I thought I knew from a completely different perspective.
We have our own printing press on St. Joseph’s Indian School’s campus, Tipi Press, and I was giving a visitor a tour and stopped by to see how things were going. Mark showed us the large 4-color press going at full throttle. He had a powerful magnifying glass to show us how different colors are made not by mixing ink, as I supposed, but by printing a blend of small dots (1200 per inch) in four colors that, as you look from a distance, trick the eye into seeing one color. Many things in life, you have to look at carefully to discover how they really are.
I had lots of meetings today, working on revamping our pastoral care programs, going over finances, working on a narrative for the history of Indian boarding schools for our Akta Lakota Museum, reflection time with a summer intern and visiting with donors who stopped by to see our campus and programs their donations make possible.
Scranton Preparatory School from Pennsylvania has been coming to St. Joseph’s each summer for a few years. They are involved in service projects and helping with our Rising Eagle Day Camp.
After a full day of activity with the children who came to camp from Lower Brule Indian reservation, I caught the group in the Ambrose Home around the supper table. None of the students had ever been to South Dakota before, and it was fun to hear their initial impressions of the wide open prairie, the Badlands and Black Hills. I answered lots of questions about the school, students and families we serve, and began to find out a little about each of them.
I noticed a nice spirit and sense of fun and camaraderie among the group. As they raised money to pay for their mission trip, they ran into several friends and family members from their community who have been long time donors to our school. They were generous in helping these young people in their travels, and delighted to facilitate an even more personal impact and concrete difference.
Houseparents work for a six day shift and then get three days off, which gives them personal time to recharge their batteries and keeps them fresh over the long haul. Every three days, a third of our houseparents start a break and a fresh group takes over. Each home has one set of six day houseparents, and two homes share a set of three-day houseparents. Changeover days like today, are one occasion when all of the houseparents are here at the same time, and have a chance to exchange information about the students in the homes. It’s also a day when we can do staff training once in a while.
As the school year winds down, today’s changeover featured a fun gathering – a healthy recipe exchange. About a dozen staff created platters of healthy snacks they’ve found the students in their homes enjoy. Everyone could sample them for themselves, and pick up recipes and new ideas. I enjoyed the time to wander and chat, as people start to make their end of the school year summer plans. When the votes were tabulated, Wanda from the Stevens Home (6th – 8th grade girls) was awarded Best Tasting, Daniel from the Matthias Home (6th – 8th grade girls) was proclaimed Most Creative and Theresa from Cyr Home (4th-5th grade boys) had the Most Student Involvement.
While stopping by the Akta Lakota Museum, I ran into Sally and Matt from Wisconsin. Their parish priest, Fr. Pat used to be our chaplain and recommended they visit. I had some time to show them around. Sally is the parish Director of Religious Education, so I made sure she got to hear from our Religious Education teacher. When we stopped in the Art room we got to see some beautiful creations. Bob Miller is our Artist in Residence for the week and he is working with our students to make art that glows fluorescently under black lights. Our students generally like art, but have gone at this work with a real passion. Some are using highlighters or paint, and the work definitely jumps out and make a favorable impression. After school, we stopped by the Afra Home (1st-3rd grade girls) where the students proudly showed our guests around the home before they hit the road with many memories.
Part of the road around St. Joseph’s Indian School’s campus was closed today as the construction company working on the Akta Lakota Museum brought in three large pre-cast sections of wall. Two pictured the notable Sioux leaders Sitting Bull and Gabriel Renville to replace similar murals that are being covered up with the new addition. The third depicts an eagle in flight, which we use as the logo for the Akta Lakota Museum & Cultural Center. The sections weigh over ten tons, and a heavy crane lifted them into place as workers attached the 20 foot high sections to the building. The new look instantly gave a sense of great progress as the project continues to take shape.
We hold an annual service awards banquet to recognize employees for each five year anniversary of their service. Tonight, in addition to honoring staff members for their longevity, we also singled out nine staff members who were nominated by their peers for setting a good example and going far beyond the basics in their job. Vaye Jean has worked in the school for 35 years, and was the longest serving employee so honored. The night was rather poignant in that she will be retiring at the end of the school year. We will make sure we say a proper goodbye when we reach that point. But, for tonight, we shared a sit down dinner, memories and appreciation for the contribution all our staff make to the success of the Native American students entrusted to our care.
Today we held our annual healing camp for students who are grieving the loss of a loved one, especially those who have lost someone dear to them over the past year. Fourteen staff members volunteered to spend the day with 15 students (two sisters shared one counselor) in a variety of activities that help them express feelings and memories.
We began the day with our drum group – The Chalk Hills Singers – singing a prayer song. We now have a dozen boys crowded around the drum! Next year Mark, the advisor, is considering starting a second drum group because of all the interest. There are also three girls who came forward. Traditionally, they don’t drum, but stand around the circle and add their lovely voices to the song.
To begin healing camp, I shared the scripture from John’s gospel about Martha and Mary’s reaction to the death of their brother Lazarus. One ran out to meet Jesus, while the other stayed at home. Each of us handles grief differently; some may need the company and support of others, but others may need down time to be alone. I wanted to give students the freedom to feel whatever they would feel during the day, and know that was okay.
One of my favorite activities was when everyone gathered in the Akta Lakota Museum classroom for a guided imagery about a conversation they would have with the loved one they were missing. As students and staff shared, they each had a glow-in-the-dark pendant, which they snapped to activate. The room gradually lit up, and the sharing produced both tears and happy memories. We ended with a circle of hugs and handshakes all around, then went outside to tie a memorial prayer tie in one of our trees on campus.
Other activities included writing a letter to the deceased and placing it on a fire with the smoke rising to the heavens, some fun time in the gym and rec center, Q and A about death and heaven, and one-on-one walks with the staff buddy.
Fr. Anthony led the group in a closing prayer service, with a lighting of votive candles and a prayer in memory of the beloved deceased. Many of our students have suffered significant losses in their young lives, and this is one way we’ve found to help lead them through such difficult days.
This afternoon was our annual rivalry basketball game with Chamberlain’s 7th and 8th grade teams to earn bragging rights for the year. Both teams play hard to win, but since many play together in our fall intercity basketball league, there is also a good sense of familiarity and friendship. I noticed at the tip-off of the 8th grade game, Michael was jumping against a boy he played on the same team with in the fall. They had huge grins and gave a warm handshake before the competition began.
Chamberlain has a strong group of 7th graders, and easily defeated our crew. In the 8th grade, we have a strong group of boys and definitely had a height advantage. But, the Cubs played good team ball and forced overtime. Our Braves finally won by three. Since it’s really a local game for both schools, we had a great crowd in the stands to cheer the players on. Many of our staff had kids or grandchildren playing for the Cubs, and most of us had to root for all the kids on both sides of the ball.
A reporter from the local newspaper came to interview me about the progress of our Akta Lakota Museum expansion and alumni/ historical center. The workers have lifted the ceiling beams into place and are working on roofing now, so it’s really taking shape. Still, it will take another year plus for the whole project to be completed.
Tuesday was Valentine’s Day! At the end of the day our students passed out cards, many store-bought, but a few homemade, to friends and classmates. The boys at Cyr Home baked treats to share with their 4th and 5th grade classmates – yummy and very appreciated!
Speaking of Valentine’s Day, in my spiritual reading, I came across this quote about love from Pedro Arupe, former superior general of the Jesuits:
“Nothing is more practical than finding God, that is, than falling in love in a quite absolute, final way. What you are in love with seizes your imagination, will affect everything. It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning, what you will do with your evenings, how you will spend your weekends, what you read, who you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude. Fall in love, stay in love and it will decide everything.”
In my weekly meeting with Mike, director of Child Services, we discussed our Lakota cultural programming. In our strategic plan we identified the need to add another staff position to complement what we are already doing in this regard. We’re looking at moving forward and hiring someone for next school year. We have begun some good things in terms of dance, drum group and language and see the need for continued staff education and development as well.
At the William Home (4th and 5th grade girls) for supper, I got to meet Chuck, our newest houseparent, who is shadowing Mike and Jessica to learn how we do childcare here at St. Joseph’s Indian School. Chuck had his two year old son Izzy with him, and the girls were quite enamored with the little guy. Izzy had a dozen big sisters willing to play and watch after him, and seemed to enjoy the attention.
It was another hectic weekend here on campus at St. Joseph’s Indian School. Fr. Steve Huffstetter, SCJ and a group of students and staff were in Austin, Texas for a donor luncheon, which gives me the opportunity to bring you up-to-date on what’s happening here in central South Dakota.
We are still enjoying a mild winter. What snow we got a few weeks ago is fast disappearing, which means that the students are missing out on sledding. The rec center staff sponsored a “midnight” sled fest recently – they turned on the football field lights so the students could sled on the hillside next to the field – and you could hear the shouts of laughter and joy all over campus. Sunday morning started out with fog, but as it lifted the cold evening air had given all the trees a frosted look which sparkled as the sun came out on another beautiful day.
This past week saw some activity at the construction site of the addition to the Akta Lakota Museum. Large beams were floating through the air as they were lifted into place. One benefit of the mild weather is that it is giving the workers the opportunity to get a lot of work done.
On Friday three of our high school students, Christopher, Jatonne and Erica, along with their fellow cast mates took part in the 56th annual One-Act Play Festival in Aberdeen, South Dakota. Chamberlain High joined with 42 other high schools to perform before the judges and public. Each play has 45 minutes from set-up to take down. The Chamberlain High players performed “We wear the Mask” about some of the issues teens and young adults face. Chamberlain High received superior acting awards, a standing ovation, and much praise from the judges, other coaches and students for the courage to present such a hard-hitting message. On the hardwood court, the Chamberlain boys’ basketball team journeyed to Sioux Falls, South Dakota to take part in the Dakota Schoolers Border Classic against Corsica-Stickney and won. St. Joseph’s has three students on the team—Nick, Claye and Elijah. The team currently has an 11-3 record.
Saturday gave me a chance to see the energy of our Native American students in action. Many of our 6th, 7th and 8th graders are active in bowling. I followed the bus home from the lanes on Saturday after two hours of setting them up to knock them down. As the students poured out of the bus in front of their homes, many of the boys raced into their homes and were back out again heading to the gym for some basketball. They seemingly have energy to burn, which is why the rec center with its gym, workout room and pool is such a blessing – to give our students the opportunity to burn off the energy the Great Spirit has blessed them with.
Sunday brought the Super Bowl and our students and staff got caught up in all the excitement as many did around the country. Several homes hosted Super Bowl parties on campus and it was nice to see that the older homes invited some of the younger students to take part in the festivities. There was good food to munch on and various door prizes to be won during the game itself. I had the chance to attend one at Cyr Home where the 4th and 5th grade boys hosted some of the Benedictine Homes’ boys (1st through 3rd grades) and the one at Sheehy Home where the high school boys hosted the other high school homes along with 8th graders. It helps give them some insight into what the future might hold for those continue in our academic program. Everyone had a great time, although I’m not sure if everyone was happy at the results of the Giants beating the Patriots, but the G-men did seem to be the choice of many of the students.
The Girls’ Inter-city Basketball program had a good day of play on Sunday. They also had the chance this past Friday evening to have some fun as the inter-city players from Chamberlain were invited out to have a swim party with the young ladies from St. Joseph’s. It was a way to have fun and help the girls continue to get to know each other to build up teamwork and help prepare them for when they’ll be together in high school.
The boys’ basketball team, about half way through their season, will meet one of our arch rivals, Lower Brule, as our 5th and 6th grade teams go there today, and Lower Brule’s 7th and 8th grade teams come here to play. These games should help us get a handle on what sort of team we have as the young men prepare for the St. Joseph’s boys’ basketball tournament this coming Saturday. It will be especially interesting since Fr. Steve has two of our stars with him on the luncheon visit to Austin, and they will not be back until after game time.
Again thanks for your prayers and generous support. We pray for you each Sunday at Mass. This Sunday we had the blessing of the throats for any of the students and staff who wished to receive it as the feast of St. Blasé was this past Friday.
Have a great week and may the Great Spirit continue to bless and reward you.
Today was mostly a meeting day. I began with the monthly reports from all the Development Office managers. Our use of media and technology changes at such a rapid pace these days. What fascinated me the most was the suggestion that we move toward having PURLS (personalized URLs) on our website, so when people visit us online, the kinds of stories and information they will see can be personalized. We have some creative, hard-working people in that part of campus, and I’m proud of the initiatives and forward ways of thinking they bring to work each day.
I walked over to the Akta Lakota Museum for our bi-weekly construction update. I imagine that sometimes meetings between architects and builders can get contentious, but ours have been working very well together. The change orders have been small, and work is steadily moving along. Right now it’s mostly welding, which doesn’t show up as big progress. But it’s like school for our kids. You have to get the basics down well, in order to move ahead later.
My management team discussed next week’s Catholic Schools Week and the presentation of our new strategic plan. (Read more here about last year’s Catholic School’s Week at St. Joseph’s Indian School.) We’re also looking at budgets and trying to prioritize capital expenses for next year, deciding what we can do and what has to wait.
When you’re a kid and don’t have to worry about shoveling snow or driving to work on icy roads, winter weather can be a lot of fun. The snow we did get is starting to melt, but made the slopes very slippery, and the kids were out in big numbers after school with sleds. Some dug tunnels through the big mounds of snow piled up by our grounds crew or played King of the Hill.
The Perky Home (4th-5th grade boys) invited me to supper. Afterwards I tried my hand (well, actually my foot) at hacky sack, but am definitely not limber enough to keep it going very long. What I was better at was helping some of the boys practice for next week’s spelling bee. In reading the words, I realized that there is a lot of vocabulary that our students don’t yet know.