We serve and teach; we receive and learn

Hello/ hau,

LaRayne imaciyapiyaye. My name is LaRayne.

Waunspe Lakota. I teach Lakota.

I also teach Native American Studies curriculum, which is a large part of my class.

The American Indian kids love hoop dancing!
The Lakota (Sioux) kids love hoop dancing!

Part of this teaching is being able to share the art of hoop dancing with the 3rd grade class.

They are taught about the sacredness of our symbol of the circle.  Then we create 5 different shapes/designs with our hoops.

We honor our circle by dancing in each hoop before we pick it up with our foot.  We then shape out the bird, eagle, Mickey Mouse, a butterfly and a circle before we dance with all the hoops above our heads.  The kids are encouraged to dance to the beat of the drum while they create these designs.

Yes, we are having a portion of it videoed, but I am not sure if and when that will be available for your eyes to see.

I love my path that has brought me to St. Joseph’s Indian School.

I truly enjoy living our motto:  We serve and teach; we receive and learn.

Becoming role models

The work is progressing on our Akta Lakota Museum expansion. I spent a lengthy phone conversation reviewing some of the text panels for our displays that will tell the history of St. Joseph Indian School. I thought I knew a lot about our history from the books and journals I’ve read, but as alumni and workers fill in details, I’m learning more all the time.

In the classrooms during study hall, I noticed several 8th graders in the rooms helping younger children. The school has started a mentoring program for those students doing well and caught up. It gives them a chance to give something back and be a role model. It also helps the younger kids feel a sense of connection and a goal to reach for when they see older friends and relatives mastering the material.

I stopped in for supper at the Carola Home (high school boys). Mike, the houseparent had made his famous Texas fried chicken, with spuds and white gravy and sweet tea to wash it down. It’s one of the boys’ favorites, and rather than just eat and run, they sat around the table a bit longer to talk of school, sports, and give a good-natured teasing to one another – a good atmosphere in the house.

Lakota (Sioux) youth basketball

Our mail room is a busy place as lots of holiday mail starts streaming in. I am so grateful that people think of us as Thanksgiving and Christmas approach. I realize this is a tough time for many people out there, which makes the generous sacrifices all the more meaningful.

I finished off a day of meetings by relaxing with girls basketball at the gym after school. Our 6th grade girls came alive in the 4th quarter, scoring 10 of their 16 points then, and coming from behind to defeat Pierre Indian Learning Center. I took in the action on the court part of the time, but sitting in the bleachers surrounded by 1st and 2nd graders, I had a whole group crowded around wanting to talk and tell me things. Tayron in particular had question upon question that reminded me of my baby brother Dan.

Every answer I gave, was always followed up with another, “How come?”


Get your Christmas cards from St. Joseph’s Indian School today

On my way to the office to work on the weekend homily, I spied the Fisher Home (6th-8thgrade) boys hiking towards the Chalk Hills, and I decided to tag along. Their houseparent Nate, decided to take advantage of a gorgeous fall day, 57 degrees and sunny, for some outdoor activity. Their game was called “camouflage” a variation of hide and seek. While Nate turned his back, the students hid themselves in gullies, behind trees and in draws, then tried to work their way back to base. If he could see them, they were out of the game until the next round. While he spotted, I was given the job of “finder.” I couldn’t say anything to Nate about those I saw, but had to walk in the area he directed me to go to. I got my exercise hopping over fallen trees and climbing over hill and dale, but all in good fun. We don’t know when the cold wintry weather will begin, so homes take advantage of these days when we are gifted with them.

Get your Christmas cards from St. Joseph's Indian School today!
Get your Christmas cards from St. Joseph's Indian School today!


Speaking of winter, in the evening our local hospital held their annual fundraiser. Their Christmas extravaganza featured Christmas gift packages and beautifully decorated trees and other items for people to bid on for the holidays. A pianist played lovely Christmas music while we ate. It really won’t be that long before Christmas is here, and we are making our lists and preparing for the holy season ourselves. Christmas cards are available through our website, and we have started a list of needed gift items as well.

Think, plan and dream

My day off was exciting and fun!

I love the traditions in college football. I grew up close to Notre Dame and occasionally got to games there. Today, I got my first experience of a Nebraska Cornhuskers college football game. Kory, our Director of Development had tickets and invited me along with his family.

We had a glorious fall day. The morning was chilly, but by mid afternoon we were shedding our jackets to enjoy sunshine in the mid 60’s. The Quad was buzzing with activity, and I most enjoyed hearing the drum line rousing up the crowd with their performance.

I was impressed by the sea of red in Memorial Stadium, except for a corner of Michigan State Spartan green in one small area. The Cornhuskers have sold out all their games since 1962, and the home team played well and sent the fans home happy, 24-3.

I had my first Runza sandwich (hamburger and cabbage) and some red and white popcorn (salty white and sweet red). Winding through the two lane highways of Nebraska and South Dakota was a long but relaxing drive home. The open road gives me a chance to think, plan and dream, and hopefully come back to work better for having the relaxation, which we all need.

Mitakuye oyasin – we are all related

I traveled to Creighton University in Omaha.  One of last year’s St. Joseph’s graduates, Shay, is a freshman there and I stopped in for lunch and a visit. Like most freshmen, Shay has had her ups and downs, but is gradually feeling adjusted and finding her way. She is doing her work-study in the office of multi-cultural affairs, and spoke of the rich friendships she is developing with students from many culturally rich backgrounds.

I was impressed by the mentoring system Creighton uses. Staff members have 12 – 15 students they meet regularly with to develop leadership, keep students on task and work through issues like adjustment and homesickness.

We sat down for lunch shortly after the Campus Grill opened, and were the first ones to walk through the doors. Our waitress was a friendly, young Native American woman named Meredith. As we looked over the menu I noticed a “Fr. Bucko” sandwich. Fr. Ray Bucko is a Jesuit trained in anthropology who has researched and written extensively about Lakota people and spiritual practice. He teaches at Creighton and in the summer helps here in South Dakota with the Sioux Spiritual Center’s Basic Directions in Ministry program for people who are starting ministry among Lakota (Sioux) people . He is a dynamic speaker and gave me some great insights when I heard him speak.

When I asked Shay if she knew Fr. Bucko, she pointed to the doorway where he was coming in! After saying hello, Fr. Bucko pointed to the waitress, and asked me if I knew Meredith, since she is from Cheyenne River Indian reservation where I worked for ten years. As soon as he said that, I put two and two together and immediately remembered the little girl I knew from Cherry Creek. I think I either baptized her or gave her first communion. She is now in grad school at Creighton, and waiting tables to help make ends meet. We did some quick catching up about her family. Her cousin Tony just started working at St. Joseph this year as a houseparent.

It is a small world after all. And as the Lakota say, mitakuye oyasinwe are all related.

Benefit from their generosity

While I was in the office working on Sunday’s homily, I got a phone call from the Akta Lakota Museum & Cultural Center. A couple from Houston, Mike and Carolyn, had brought up a truck load of clothes to share with us and wanted to meet me and say hello. I was in sweat pants and an old t-shirt, but that actually worked to my advantage as we went to the storage building and unloaded. I took Mike and Carolyn on a tour of campus.

The William Home (4th-5th grade girls) were most gracious about showing us the home and talking about their routine. They also volunteered to try on some of the sweatshirts and a coat so the good folks back in Texas who gathered it all up could see the kids who will benefit from their generosity.

Hidden America – Children of the Plains

A day of some sadness with a funeral and a wake to go to today.

Fr. Brian was a 46-year-old priest who pastored in Fort Pierre, South Dakota until an inoperable brain tumor was discovered about four months ago. He had been in the hospital and hospice care since then, and died earlier this week. During the homily, Fr. Michel acknowledged so many people were saddened that a young priest who touched so many people’s hearts should die so young and so quickly. But God’s ways are not our ways. What is most important not the length of our lives, but what we do with the time God gives us. Going to a priest’s funeral makes me more deeply reflect on my own priesthood and ask how I can be a better and holier servant of God.

The moment I was most moved to tears came at the beginning of mass, with about 40 priests lining the center  aisle to greet the body. Fr. Brian’s niece and nephew sang a gospel song, “I will Rise”. I couldn’t help but think of my own cancer, which is still in remission. I had a sense of,  this could have been me. But it led to a deepening of the psalmist’s attitude – “What return can I make to the Lord, for all the good God has done for me in seeing me through?”

One of our secretaries suffered a family tragedy when her college aged son died. This evening at the wake the church and hall were packed as tightly as possible, with a tremendous outpouring of care and support from the community.

Tonight ABC news 20/20 program with Diane Sawyer ran a special on Hidden America – Children of the Plains. South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Indian Reservation was the location for the reports. The images and stories were powerful and well done. The journalists were realistic about the tough living conditions on the Indian reservation. And they also showed some of the hope and promise in young people trying to break cycles of poverty and alcoholism. Those are much the critical issues we at St. Joseph’s Indian School try to address.

I value the wisdom shared

We had an all day Board of Directors meeting. The longest segment of discussion revolved around the new strategic plan that we have been working on. With the added input and approval of the Board we should be ready to begin in early 2012. We went through the annual audit; we were glad to hear there were no major problems or findings. We reviewed the plans for the museum expansion and alumni center, and heard reports from our outreach programs on the Indian reservations.

I’m always trying to make sure St. Joseph is headed in the right direction, and asking the right questions. It helps to have others who care about the mission of the school to ask the big questions too, and provide direction and recommendations.

While I finish these meetings feeling a bit worn out, I also value the wisdom shared, which makes the load of administrative leadership easier to carry.

Making the Akta Lakota Museum into a small town treasure

Today, 15 Northern Plains artists submitted their latest creations  to our Akta Lakota Museum & Cultural Center acquisition committee, and the museum picked up several nice new pieces. The things I usually like are not the same ones our more knowledgeable artists recommend, and in the long run, they have done a great job of making our museum into a small treasure in town.

Two fellow SCJs Fr. Jack and Deacon Dave arrived for tomorrow’s Board of Directors meeting. Deacon Dave was my predecessor as director of St. Joseph’s Indian School. When I saw the school secretary at 11:30 mass, I asked her if anything special was happening at school today. “Deacon Dave dropped by to see us, so that made the day pretty special.” People still appreciate all he did to build up St. Joseph’s into the place it is today.

Adrian and Merrill are two 8th grade boys chosen to represent St. Joseph’s at our next donor luncheon, which will be in Pittsburgh in early December. I practiced with them after school, asking typical questions  our donors want to know. They’re excited and a little bit nervous, but that gives them incentive to practice harder. It will be a great chance for them to experience a big city and see what life is like there.