Lifeblood of the Native American people

We had a smaller crowd in church today. The high school boys had a free Saturday night so decided to attend church downtown last night so they could sleep in today. The girls of the William (4th-5th) and Dennis (1st-3rd) Homes are on a field trip to Custer State Park to take in the annual Buffalo Roundup. It is amazing to see over a thousand head of those magnificent animals come running down the prairie hillsides. Tatanka was always the lifeblood of the Native American people when they hunted on the plains.

After church, three of our staff were going out for coffee and invited me to come along. Often, I stop in at one of the students’ homes, but this was a nice change of pace, to chat about a wide range of subjects. Often at work we talk business, but it’s always interesting to hear of people’s varied backgrounds, interests and experiences. One thing that helps St. Joseph’s Indian School be so solid, is our committed, experienced and caring staff.

One of our staff was put to the test this afternoon. When I stopped in at the Rec Center, a lone 3rd grade boy was sitting in the middle of the gym floor, refusing to budge after all the rest of his home headed back for supper. Sometimes our Lakota (Sioux) students don’t cope well with stress, and can have tantrums or exhibit oppositional defiant behavior. Houseparents, teachers and counselors know those times will come, and the situations call for lots of patience and understanding in order to get to the root of what is really bothering the student.

FAST weekend at St. Joseph’s Indian School

I’m nursing a bad fall cold, so yesterday was a day to stay home and rest, read and watch some TV. I took a two hour afternoon nap, which I must have needed. I did go to the office to pick up the mail and found a wonderful homemade thank you card signed by all our student powwow dancers. They are grateful for all our staff did to make the experience of the  powwow a special time for students and their families.

Today we had ten families on campus for another FAST (Families and Schools Together) weekend. I saw several of our staff and high school students acting as baby sitters out on the playground with all the children. During that time the parent/guardians were having a group session with one of our counselors. The setting gives them a support group as they talk about issues they face in raising their children/grandchildren, and having them be away from home. One thing that is needed is some strong male role models in our students’ lives.

Our staff does most of the work. I just like to stop by and connect with the families and let them know they are welcome here, and we think about them and pray for them and want to partner with them to make life better for the next generation.

It’s football season at St. Joseph’s Indian School

A group of about 15 staff spent the morning in a strategic planning session. We have done most of the discussion and prioritizing. Next it will go to the Board of Directors in a few weeks to get their input and possible approval. They may also see things we’ve missed, and ask for further work. It has been a good exercise in helping us identify areas we need to shore up and improve.

This afternoon we took bids for our Akta Lakota Museum & Cultural Center expansion and alumni building. The contractors all came very close to what we figured it would cost, and the two lowest bidders actually had the same base bid. It will come down to the three items we asked for options on, and even those figures are very close. We had the ceremonial ground breaking last week at powwow, and are hoping to start the real digging and initial construction in a couple of weeks.

St. Joseph's Indian School's football team won 44-0!
St. Joseph's Indian School's football team won 44-0!

Todd County School visited us for a 7th & 8th grade football game. We have a very athletic group of  8th grade boys who played solidly and won 44-0. Two of our students are already 6’ tall and almost a head above all the rest, with size and strength to match. Like some of our opponents, when I was 13 I was 4’11” and weighted 98 lbs. I can’t imagine trying to stop Dawson or Michael from blitzing! We don’t have many 7th graders on the team, so next year might be a rebuilding year and payback time.

Keeping our focus

Our buildings are insured through Christian Brothers Insurance, and they came out to look over St. Joseph’s Indian School’s campus. While I always get a little nervous that they might find something that will take lots of effort or funds, I do appreciate having a skilled set of eyes check over what we are doing.

It helps keep our focus on things we might otherwise miss.

Overall the inspector was quite impressed with our facilities, policies and procedures. We have up to date manuals that we follow, and many different kinds of safety training throughout the year, from fire drills,  safe driving courses or how to handle blood when there is an accident. We were commended on having a separate storage building for the chemicals and products that are considered hazardous.  Human Resources had good documentation on staff participation in training, and we didn’t get flagged for any major violations. Kudos to the staff in HR and Facilities that stay on top of all that.

Christian Brother’s also has a magazine and several staff were interviewed for a story that will appear in the February issue. I met for an hour with Cyndi, a staff writer, who also spoke to houseparents and teachers to get an overall impression of the mission and philosophy of St. Joseph’s Indian School. I’ll be interested in seeing her impressions in print.

Game night at St. Joseph’s Indian School

While last week’s powwow ran well, one of the reasons it does so is our ongoing efforts at evaluation and improvement. We don’t have any control over the weather, but we do have much to do with all the other aspects. The wrap up meeting took far longer than previous planning meetings. We heard suggestions ranging from better identification of the homes open for tours to organizing dancers for the Grand Entry, to better strategic placing of porta-potties!

We had planned a mentor roller-skating outing to nearby Platte. But the prairie winds were in full force, and with 60 mph gusts the school districts cautioned against taking busses out on the open road. Staying home may have  saved me from another kind of danger, since my roller-skating prowess was shaky even when I was young. Instead, we gathered in the Rec Center for a quieter, yet still fun, game night. I taught Robert how to play Scrabble. We didn’t keep score and I just tried to put out longer words that would make it easier for him to build upon.

A successful meeting

Our Parents Advisory Council met today. We discussed the alumni center that is still in the planning stages, and how we can utilize our alumni as resources for helping our students pursue careers and connections. At the health center the parents and grandparents had a lively discussion with our nurses. The most common health issue we find our students facing is allergies and asthma. We talked about the procedures when a student gets an illness or injury that necessitates a trip to the hospital.

Head lice and childhood obesity are two health issues that can be embarrassing for youth to deal with, but also occur with increasing frequency. We discussed ways to work with these students in ways that don’t damage their self-esteem. Another self-esteem related issue is bullying. Julie, our Residential Coordinator and Jennie, our Student Coordinator explained ways we are addressing the effects of bullying on our students. Sadly, that has been such an ongoing problem for kids of every generation.

Donna, our HR Director, got parental input on ideas for continuing to recruit more Native American staff, across all departments, but particularly in the Homes. When our students have mentors who can more closely connect with their American Indian culture and experience, that is an invaluable resource.

Mark your calendars: September 14-15, 2012

I do try to carefully listen to the voice of God, but the voice I heard from the heavens today didn’t quite fit into that category. Right in the middle of my homily at mass this morning, our wireless microphone system picked up something broadcast on a signal frequency close to ours, and over the loudspeaker we heard part of what sounded like a town hall meeting! We had a good laugh, they tried to get back to the business of praying and giving thanks for what was truly a blessed and wonderful weekend. Several of our visitors were able to stay for services today as well.

The rest of the day, my adrenaline from the weekend finally wore off, and I took a nap, read and did laundry. Next year’s powwow will again be the third weekend in September.

We’re already dreaming of September 14-15, 2012!

Day two of our 35th annual powwow

Akta Lakota Museum & Cultural Center's ground breaking ceremony.
Akta Lakota Museum & Cultural Center's ground breaking ceremony.

This morning we broke ground for our Akta Lakota Museum & Cultural Center’s expansion that will include an alumni center, historical displays, medicine wheel garden of healing, and museum storage space. We had alumni representing everyone from a new first grader to Casmir LeBeau, who is in his 90’s and was in the first group of American Indian children to arrive at St. Joseph Indian School when it opened its doors in 1927!

Four of our homes were open for tours, so guests could glimpse what our homes and their routines are all about. Besides classroom learning – since our students live here – we have to make sure to teach them a lot about life as well.

I have so many memories from the powwow – wonderful turnout, people and dancers. I’m so grateful to our staff for making all this happen. If you have 6 minutes, take some time to watch the video from our 35th annual powwow that one of our staff produced. Pictures speak far more than my words can say.

One event that did move me a lot was when 4th grader Richard’s family asked for a special dance to honor him. He had some serious foot surgery on his growth plate last year, but is courageously pushing ahead with his dancing. Earlier during one of the rounds he fell, but got right up and kept going.

My family often makes the trip out for this special even this year. I was pleased to have Uncle Mickey and Aunt Betty join us.

We were graced with the presence of seven fine drum groups.

The Lakota (Sioux) dancers were great at our powwow!
The American Indian dancers were great at our powwow!

When the powwow was completed, we ate a feast of beef and buffalo stew prepared by our kitchen staff. Then it came time for awards. While not every dancer won a prize, everyone who danced was a winner in my eyes.

Keep going even when times are hard

Visitors have been stopping at Akta Lakota Museum & Cultural Center all day to pick up their registration packets for our 35th annual powwow. The first person I saw when I went into the museum was Percy who comes all the way from Illinois and hasn’t missed a powwow in the seven years that I’ve been at St. Joseph’s Indian School. There were other folks who have been long time donors and have never been to the campus. As others talk about having wanted to come for many years, and have finally made it, their journey seems like a kind of pilgrimage. They picked up maps and schedules and are getting their plans in order for the next couple of days.

We started the morning by meeting with the auditors to get the preliminary financial report. The full report will go to the Board of Directors in October. We were again blessed with the financial support to be able to run the many quality programs we have available at St. Joseph’s Indian School and in our outreach programs.

Fr. Tom, my religious superior, is also out for his annual pastoral visitation. He will spend time with each SCJ in South Dakota, asking how we’re doing, and offering his support and encouragement. Besides the work at the school, he wanted to know about my health (still doing well) and the joys and challenges of religious life. He was superintendent at St. Joseph’s Indian School in the 70’s and 80’s and invested a lot of himself in this place.

In a slow, cold and dreary rain, three of our 7th and 8th grade cross-country runners competed against high school JV teams in the meet held at the Chamberlain golf course. I admire dedication even when the weather is nice for running. To see our students going hard in difficult conditions made the discomfort I felt minor by comparison.

I hope they learn that lesson in life too, to keep going even when times are hard.

Our powwow is hours away

After school I noticed that all our student powwow dancers were streaming toward the field. They were gathered to take a group picture, for it seems impossible to get everyone together in one spot once the dancing begins. Excitement is definitely building as the big day is just hours away.

Our drum group was in the school music room practicing as well. They have learned a few new songs and besides the Flag Song and Honor Song, they will play for some of the dancing as well. They’re nervous because the other drum groups are seasoned singers, but what they lack in experience, I know they’ll make up in enthusiasm.