“We no longer hunt buffalo with a bow or live in tipis, but our roots of honor and goodwill remain. While fire purifies and allows new life to begin, water is cleansing and brings us nourishment. Coming from all directions, the wind provides movement.
The powwow also has a purpose. Today we live in a culture of distraction. A place must be kept that pushes back against the distractions. A place that understands the culture because it embraces its individuals…”
St. Joseph’s 39th annual wacipi — powwow — was a success! People from across the country gathered on our campus to help hundreds of Lakota (Sioux) children celebrate their Native American culture and heritage. As we look to future celebrations, we thank you for sharing in our work and helping Lakota children in need reach for a brighter future!
“The day comes to a close. Many thoughts run through my mind. I think the highest form of thought is gratitude. But silent gratitude isn’t much use to anyone… so thank you to those who share this vision.”
Lots of activity on St. Joseph’s Indian School’s campus today. Despite freezing rain and treacherous icy roads, Chamberlain’s Chamber of Commerce hosted fourth, fifth and sixth grade girls basketball tournaments at the three gyms throughout town. St. Joseph’s hosted the sixth grade action. All of our teams got in three games to end the season. None of them won the championship, but all hustled and played hard.
Today’s big event was the Christmas Store. All the children had a handful of tickets which they could use to “purchase” different items that donors have sent in. They picked up sweaters for grandpa and clothes for a baby sister, necklaces for mom or a stuffed animal for a younger brother. Once they loaded up their plastic garbage bags with a dozen items or so, they came to the skate room, where Santa Claus waited to greet them, and generous volunteers helped them wrap all the presents to take home and share with their loved ones. Staff also baked lots of Christmas goodies for snacks throughout the day. Each of the nineteen homes had about 20 minutes to do their shopping before the next group came in. The kids are excited and look forward to it, and staff enter into the spirit of the season. Several high school students also helped decorate the room and wrap presents, teaching them to give back to their younger relatives.
Tonight the Chamberlain Area Churches Choir performed a lovely Christmas Cantata in our Chapel. I sat next to the Rooney Home boys (6th-8th grades) but didn’t see any other Lakota students in the church. I was feeling bad that more of the kids couldn’t enjoy the lively harmonies and inspiring message. The Cantata was close to our primary students’ bedtime, so I understood. But then, I heard clapping coming from the choir loft. There was a lively group upstairs, wearing pajamas and bath robes, so they could go right from church to bedtime when all was finished!
There are advantages to having lots of connecting walk ways on our campus. And the choir seemed tickled and appreciative that our students were able to participate.
The past few days our Lakota students have been out sledding in force, but today the sun came out and began melting our snowfall into the dry and thirsty ground. They’ll have to wait until the next storm before the hills again allow for good sledding. But that didn’t deter kids from having fun at recess.
Today’s winter coats are warm indeed, but the plastic outer material is slick enough to make sleds optional. I watched the children belly slide head first down the gentle slopes leading to the playground, laughing all the way! I’m sure the teachers don’t mind the students burning off a little excess energy before coming back to the classroom to focus on reading, writing and arithmetic.
I had to pick up a package a friend sent for Christmas, so I wandered over to Central Receiving, where all the boxes that come to St. Joseph’s Indian School’s campus wind up. Glenda and Cathy have worked as a team for many years. This time of year gets a little hectic for them, but they seemed in good cheer as they opened and sorted piles of clothes, toiletries, toys and games, books and school supplies and knick-knacks of all kinds.
Some of the boxes are from people who are taking part in our Holiday Wishes Christmas program. Those presents will be distributed after Christmas break when the students return in January. Items like hair conditioner, socks and basketballs are always in demand, and go onto the shelves so our houseparents have easy access to them. We have several requests for help with Christmas presents for needy children on nearby Indian reservations and are putting aside hats and gloves, stuffed animals, coloring books and crayons to brighten their holiday.
Glenda and Cathy have also put aside a lot of nice things for our Christmas store on Saturday. There, our children shop for presents to take home to their families. I saw a stack of five crock pots sent in by one generous donor who specified they go reservation families. Baby and toddler clothes are also very popular as kids think about younger brothers and sisters back home. We are blessed with many generous donations that we in turn can share so they are put to good use.
We had a couple of funerals the past two days that affected many people on St. Joseph’s Indian School’s campus. Yesterday, a teenager who was a student at St. Joseph’s a couple of years ago, was laid to rest on the Crow Creek Indian reservation. She has a couple of siblings still here at St. Joseph’s and lots of cousins. We had about 15 students checked out to be with family during these sad days. Several homes made their presence felt at the wakes over the weekend. Shauntae and her family are in all our prayers.
Richard was one of our custodians until his battle with cancer made it necessary to quit work and focus full-time on treatment. He fought a long and courageous battle, but he too died this past week. His wife Mary still works at St. Joseph’s. I noticed a good crowd of co-workers that showed their support during the wake and funeral.
We get many letters each day from people who ask us to pray for them during their time of grief and loss. It’s a part of the human condition none of us escape. My prayer is that those who mourn will know the care and support of people around them to help get through the days of darkness. While it can be difficult to find words of comfort, a simple presence at wakes and funerals speaks loudly by itself.
Our high school students are starting to hear back from colleges they are applying for. Chris got an acceptance letter from Dakota State University today. He joins Elijah (U of Kansas) and LaToya (Presentation College in Aberdeen) as they plan for their post St. Joseph future. Other seniors are still waiting to hear from schools of their choice – appropriate during this Advent season of patient and hopeful waiting with expectation.
I walked by the music room and heard the sound of three beginning clarinet players working hard to get the sounds of Jingle Bells in time with the teacher’s lead and in harmony with one another. They are preparing to play in the Christmas recital on December 19th. In encouraged them to keep practicing, and look forward to hearing how they do in two weeks’ time.
Our Human Resources Department organized our holiday tradition called “Sweet Sampling.” Staff brought a variety of colorful, scrumptious Christmas goodies to the skate room and folks dropped by throughout the day for treats at break times. Recipes were left by each platter for people to try on their own for the items they especially enjoyed. I can tell that our push on wellness is also making inroads. The tables were also laden with fresh fruit as an alternative, and I saw recipes for Weight Watchers Chocolate Marshmallow Fudge and 50 – Calorie Chocolate Toffee Puffs. HR also passed out cute homemade cookie cutter ornaments to get people in the holiday mood.
As I walked up the aisle to set up for church this morning, 3rd grader Rudy motioned to me.
“Why is everything purple?”
The prayerful season of Advent is upon us, and he noticed the change in the externals. Of course Advent is more about interior decorating – of our hearts – getting spiritually ready for the wonderful Christmas season. Our children’s choir learned two new songs, Emmanuel, familiar lyrics but in a new setting, and Candles of Advent, to emphasize the hope we hold out in the Light of the World. While in church we can burn real candles, fire regulations won’t let us get away with that in the homes. All of the homes have Advent wreaths, but with electric candles. Each home has age appropriate prayer books and resource materials to help each child enter into the spirit of the season.
While holiday decorations are going up all around us, we ask our homes to hold off on decorating for Christmas until later in December, so our community can experience the Advent season of patient waiting with great expectation. This year, we made an exception for two of the homes. The Stevens and Mathias Homes where our 6th – 8th grade girls live just finished up a major remodeling this year, and were asked to participate in Chamberlain’s annual Holiday Parade of Homes. People buy a $10 ticket and are able to tour several area homes to get ideas for decorating and enjoy the Christmas spirit. Proceeds benefited our public library, so it was for a good cause. Our girls baked holiday treats and took great pride in giving visitors tours and showcasing their home. It gave people from town, who might not normally come onto St. Joseph’s Indian School’s campus or into the homes, an opportunity to see how our Lakota students live and also learn more about our approach to residential education.
The Stevens Home was named after a long time St. Joseph’s employee, Virginia Stevens, who has since passed away. We did have two special visitors – two of her daughters back for a visit, which made the day doubly special. While one of the daughters was gazing at the dedication portrait of her mother, 6th grader Jacquelyn remarked, “You look just like her!” That evoked a misty eye, a spreading smile and a big hug. We gathered around the Christmas tree for some photos.
Lots of activity over the weekend. Our high school wrestlers left Saturday at 4:30 a.m. for a tournament, and didn’t return until after midnight. In South Dakota, distances between towns and schools are great and some events have to be played 3 or even 4 hours away. The HS basketball teams had their first scrimmage of the season, and the crowd got a preview of things to come, with our St. Joseph’s students getting lots of playing time. Our own 8th grade girls hosted a four-team tournament and kept the trophy for the second year in a row. The junior high students not on the team cooked Sloppy Joes and hot dogs, along with cookies and bars to sell at the concession stand.
Our archery team was busy practicing their aim in the school gym, vying for a spot on the team that will compete against other schools at the Lakota Nations Invitational Tournament in a few weeks.
We enjoyed sunny and warm weather, unusual for December. Lots of kids were outside playing games and enjoying time on the playground.
Health Update – I got back last night from a trip to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. I’ve been feeling great, yet still need to check in with the oncologists every six months to make sure the sarcoma doesn’t rear its ugly head again. Recurrence is a problem with soft tissue cancer. All the scans went well, with no signs of problems, thanks be to God. I’m so appreciated of people’s continued prayers and support!
One of our students asked me if I went to boarding school. The answer is yes, High School Seminary. When he followed up wondering if I ever got homesick, I could see the tears forming in his eyes. He had a nice Thanksgiving with his grandmother, and now that he’s back on St. Joseph’s Indian School’s campus, he’s missing her and his relatives so much. He knows St. Joseph’s is a good place for him to be, yet all of us on staff realize how emotionally hard it is to be away. I got homesick several times, even when I moved away for college. Imagine what must go through the mind and heart of a child as young as six! We try to be as supportive as we can, and if family can be reached, give the child a chance to call home and talk. But sometimes there are tears, calling forth a hug or pat on the back, and solidarity with the lonely sadness.
I joined the Fisher Home (6th– 8th grade boys) for supper. David and Gayle are two of our newest houseparents and are quickly learning the routine and developing relationships with the boys. Gayle likes to cook from scratch and put a great meal on the table that fed the hearty appetites of ten teenage boys. After supper, everyone pitched in to clean up the area of the home they had particular responsibility for. They rotate duties, since no one is particularly fond of washing pots or cleaning bathrooms. Students take good care of the place, although it helps to have houseparents check things over. Carol is a six day houseparent in Fisher and celebrates a birthday tomorrow. After the table was cleaned up, the guys got out paper and crayons and created a pile of cute homemade birthday cards to greet Carol with when she comes in tomorrow. It’s been a while since I got out the crayons, but I gave it my best effort as well.
I noticed the lights on in the Skating Room and stopped to find a group of 4th and 5th grade girls practicing for their “Dancing Dolls” performance. I asked the girls to demonstrate what they have of their routine so far. They started with some timidness and hesitancy, but once they got the beat down, started to lose themselves in the music and have fun. I look forward to seeing how they respond in front of the crowd a couple of weeks from now.
On the national election day, our Lakota students also got to learn about the democratic process by participating in a vote themselves. Students served as poll watchers and vote counters and got to weigh in on national and state-wide candidates, as well as the constitutional amendments on our state ballot. Perhaps someday our students will be in the running for tribal or state office.
Paul, one of our alumni, now works for the Sanford Heart Hospital in Sioux Falls. They have a mobile screening unit, and through Paul’s efforts they are on St. Joseph’s Indian School’s campus this week to offer heart screenings to St. Joseph’s staff. We put a lot of emphasis on health and wellness, and identifying potential problems before they get too far along is crucial.
I took advantage of the offer and went through the tests. It began with taking a blood sample to examine cholesterol, and an EKG to monitor the heart. We won’t get the EKG results back for a few days, but when we moved on to the mobile CT unit for a scan of the heart and arteries, we saw the results moments later. I was pleased and relieved to find out that I don’t have any plaque buildup in my arteries. But like all of us, I cannot rest on my laurels and must stay active and be more careful with my diet.
A word we’ve used for years to describe the chores students do to help around the home has been “charges.” Students rotate the duties of dishes, setting the table, sweeping, vacuuming and keeping the house neat and tidy. Our Child Services Team has recommended now using the word “responsibilities” instead.
The Lakota word for this is “igloyaye.” Dave, our Lakota language instructor sent us all a brief recording so we can all learn to pronounce the word, and more importantly help the students to learn that helping in a responsible way has deep roots in their own tradition. Click here to learn how to pronounce igloyaye – responsibilities!
We took preliminary eighth grade graduation pictures today. These are the group photos we’ll print and send to our donors a few months from now. I’ve been at St. Joseph’s Indian School a full 8 years now, so I was here when this group of Native American students entered St. Joseph’s as first graders!
Some came later along the way, but I have many memories of each of them growing up before my eyes. I encouraged the students to keep working hard so, when they walk down the aisle six months from now, they’ll be ready to tackle the new demands of high school!
Last night Mark at the Rec Center tried a new activity with the fourth and fifth grade boys – water polo!
He used the deep end of the pool and played side to side to shorten the field. The boys learned the basics and enjoyed it, but had to keep asking for subs to come in because they found treading water the whole time and trying to get their arms out of the water for a good shot to be very tiring. I’m sure the houseparents who had to make sure they went to bed at the end of the evening didn’t mind at all. We like to have our Lakota students try new activities; you never know what might catch their passion and interest.
Saturday I was in the office working on weekend liturgy when a call came in from Raphael Home (1st – 3rd grade boys) that a gentleman was looking for someone to donate a picture to. Turns out a hunter from Wisconsin had a beautiful limited edition print of a painting of a white buffalo calf, which has great meaning and sacredness in Lakota culture. He wanted to know if we had a good home for it. I gratefully accepted the gift, and I showed the boys the image. They liked it so much we decided to let the print make its home in Raphael. People surprise us with their goodness and generosity every day.
Usually when I’m at the Rec Center I see activities for students around the same grade and age. This afternoon as I approached the building I found students from all grades and corners of St. Joseph’s Indian School’s campus streaming in. Andy had just announced over the intercom that the prize money for the Halloween costume contest was available to the winners, and they made a beeline for the treasure. It was just a few dollars, but that meant extra treats at the snack bar, or a few bucks to put into their account for later use.
Several homes used today for day trips, while others shot baskets in the gym, tossed footballs around outside, or watched a favorite movie.
This morning our high school staff hosted a farewell breakfast in the Hogebach Home for Shana, who has directed the High School Program for the past five years. Her husband got a promotion that moved the family to a different part of the state. In her time as director here, she and her staff found ways to increase our student GPA and retention rates, and see more go on to college. We plan to build on those successes and continue developing the programs and ideas she implemented. All the best to you in your new endeavors Shana!
Halloween is one of the most exciting days to be a kid, especially when you get to dress up in costume all day. I toured the school and previewed the attire our Lakota students picked out for this whimsical holiday. Several of the teachers and staff also got into the spirit of the day and wore colorful and creative outfits, including Kathleen our principal, whose face was painted to make her look like a cat. After the initial giggles died down, everyone got down to work, and the quizzes, experiments and reading went on as normal.
There was no study hall as teachers went easy on tonight’s homework, so classes could dismiss a half hour early. Students put the finishing touches on their costumes and grabbed a bag for trick or treating. My office was one of several stops around campus. Those of us who work in central offices coordinate treats with our dining hall so we have some variety, and so the treats are fun but have some nutritional value. I passed out fruit roll ups. I wore a Fred Flintstone outfit, and with reruns of the classics, about half the kids knew who I was. The other half were fascinated by the big feet that came along with the costume.
We have two medical students from the University of South Dakota spending a few days on St. Joseph’s Indian School’s campus for a cross cultural experience. We put them to work right away lining up children for the costume contest. We gathered in the Rec Center where the students were split into categories of funniest, scariest and most creative according to each age group of homes. I wasn’t one of the judges this year, but one of my favorites was Bryante, a first grader dressed like Tinkerbelle. The judges agreed too, and she won first place. My favorite staff ensemble was a Little Mermaid trio, with two of our staff as Ursula and King Triton, and their daughter as Ariel.
Several families took part in the festivities, then checked their child out to take them trick or treating in town. A few of the homes, especially with younger kids, also made some rounds in town, since that’s part of the fun and allure of Halloween. At the end of the day, houseparents collect all the candy and treats so our students will snack a little at a time over the next couple of weeks.
Days on St. Joseph’s Indian School’s campus have memorable laughs and occasional tears. Today was a day for grieving, as we got word that the mother of four of our students died much too young. We are all lifting them up in our thoughts and prayers.
The boys’ aunt notified our family service counselors ahead of time, so Scott and Karen gathered the boys after school for a family meeting. An older brother, who lives out of state, was on the phone to take part in the conversation as well. After they had time to let the sad news sink in, I was called to join in for some prayers.
Dave, one of our Native American Studies Specialists, brought in a hand drum, and sang a Lakota prayer song to comfort and strengthen the family. There aren’t a lot of words at times like this, only a caring presence. Karen rounded up some gift cards to the local McDonald’s so the auntie and boys could go out for supper and some time together before parting. I’m sure the days to come will be tough on the boys. Our circle of support will try to walk with them along the difficult journey.
On a more joyful note, I stopped by the school gym later to watch our 1st – 3rd grade boys learning about wrestling. Two of the houseparents were helping Mark, our recreation specialist teach not only about rules and techniques, but about sportsmanship. The houseparents also appreciated the fact the boys could burn off energy in a constructive way, hoping they’d be calmer when they arrived home to settle in for the evening.