Students at St. Joseph’s Discover their Cultural Identity

Students at St. Joseph’s Indian School are immersed into many cultural experiences to strengthen their bond to their Lakota culture. One of those experiences is powwow.

If you were to ponder the important subjects taught in classrooms across the country, what might you think of?

Perhaps math, science, reading and English are the first to come to mind. While these subjects are, of course, important for a well-rounded student to succeed in the real world one day, among the list of subjects provided to students at St. Joseph’s Indian School, there is one that is extra special.

That class is Native American Studies. It’s a class that aims at preserving and sharing the Lakota (Sioux) culture, traditions and language through every student at St. Joseph’s. While coming to understand one’s background and culture may seem like a daunting task for school-aged children, it can actually be a simple and fun opportunity for self-discovery.

When referring to culture, there is a special term for this self-discovery. It’s called “cultural identity”.

LaRayne is the Native American Studies Lead and Cultural Specialist at St. Joseph’s. As a cultural specialist, LaRayne developed a unique project called “30 Ways to Build Cultural Identity for Native American Children”. In the lesson, LaRayne challenges the students to discover who they are and where they came from.

“People are often interested about their ancestry, but may not know where to start. There are so many small steps you can take each day by studying, cooking and exploring to discover and connect with your culture,” said LaRayne. “This lesson highlights 30 of those small steps.”

Students learn cooking not only to learn an important life-skill, but also to connect with their culture through traditional cuisine.

Five of the 30 examples to develop cultural identity include:

  • Learn and retell your creation story.
  • Study a traditional craft, such as beading, and try it.
  • Know kinship terms and use them often.
  • Host a meal of traditional foods and learn how to make them.
  • Perform a traditional dance and pass it on.
Donors had the opportunity to craft a dreamcatcher at the 46th Annual Powwow. This workshop is always a hit with visitors and a way for everyone to experience the Lakota culture.

Students are provided opportunities throughout the year to experience their culture in the ways suggested in the lesson. Of course, the most popular opportunity being our powwow, which correlates nicely with number five above. This September we will celebrate our 47th Annual Powwow.

“I have been getting ready for powwow by practicing my dancing, and also helping others get ready,” said Ezmiah, a St. Joseph’s student. “It’s been my dream to become a really great dancer.”

And as Ezmiah practices, we know she will achieve her dream. Along the way, Ezmiah may just find out what she’s capable of and a part of who she is at her center. Thus, completing the full-circle experience of discovering her personal cultural identity.

Cultural identity is not only for Native Americans to discover. While this activity focuses on Native American children, LaRayne recommends parents and teachers use this exercise and share ideas to help any child, of any race or ethnicity, connect with his or her own heritage — from Hispanic and African cultures to French, Irish and beyond.

Your kindness and support make St. Joseph’s a great environment for students as we work to educate Native American children and families for life — mind, body, heart and spirit. Philámayayethank you — for your generosity!

Want to view the full list of 30 Ways to Build Cultural Identity for Native American Children? Click here to download it now!

Author: St. Joseph's Indian School

At St. Joseph's Indian School, our privately-funded programs for Lakota (Sioux) children in need have evolved over 90 years of family partnership, experience and education. Because of generous friends who share tax-deductible donations, Native American youth receive a safe, stable home life; individual counseling and guidance; carefully planned curriculum based on Lakota culture and individual student needs and tools to help build confidence, boost self-esteem and improve cultural awareness. All of this helps children to live a bright, productive, possibility-filled future.

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