The Sacred Cannupa

Kara is carving her soap into a Native American pipe.
Kara did a great job creating her pipe from a bar of soap!

The 4th grade classes are learning about the rituals and beliefs of our Lakota Culture.  Within this unit is the center of who we are as a people.  The cannupa or pipe is a part of many ceremonies and everyday life.  The pipe can be used for special ceremonies and for prayer when it is needed.

The class embraces the hands-on time of learning about the parts of a real pipe as well as singing the song that accompanies the filling of a pipe.  We do not smoke the actual pipe because this is something that is for special use and I believe that many of our children should have this experience with their families.

Three Native American students carving pipes
The students did such a good job carving!

We cannot travel out of state for class trips, so we learn about how pipestone is harvested and shaped into a sacred, beautiful object which holds deep meaning.  The students are told the story of the Pte San Win, the White Buffalo Calf Woman, who brought the pipe to our people centuries ago.  The pipestone quarry in Pipestone, Minnesota holds historical meaning to the creation stories of our people as well.   It is believed that the area where the quarry is today is the place where the last of our people drowned in the great flood.  Their blood is the red-colored rock that we use for pipe-making today.

The Native American students are then able to do a little creating of their own.  I demonstrate how to carve a piece of soft soap into what might be the bowl of a pipe.  As you can see from the pictures, they are proud of their creations.

This unit of learning ties their American Indian culture to their hands, hearts and minds.

Making each Lakota (Sioux) child feel valued and special

St. Joseph's Indian School's 2012 chili cook-off winners!
Congratulations to this year's chili cook-off winners!

Cold weather has returned to our area and St. Joseph’s Indian School’s Human Resources organized our annual Chili Cook Off today. About 15 staff members made their best chili or soup and judges decided who gets bragging rights for the next year. It’s a fun, cold weather activity.  By the time I arrived in the skate room, the three award-winning crock-pots were empty. But there were plenty of other samples to treat for the taste buds. Our dining room prepared its own hearty chili, and Wisconsin Cheddar soup to make sure no one went away hungry. The crowd of staff who gathered lingered long to talk, eat and raise each others’ spirit.

In the evening, I was invited to the Afra Home (1st – 3rd grade girls). Ironically, what was on the menu? Chili dogs! But that was also balanced by fruits and vegetables. After supper, I listened to the children read for a while. A houseparent with 12 students to supervise may not have the ability to sit down with one or two students like that and the girls relished the individual attention. While we deal with a number of children, it’s our goal to make each feel valued and special.

Native American student Christmas celebration

All of our Lakota youngsters had a great time!
All of our Lakota youngsters had a great time!

As our Native American students return from Christmas break, St. Joseph’s Indian School’s campus begins to come alive again!  It’s great to see the smiling faces and to visit with students about their holidays and break.

The students returned on Monday anticipating the Student Christmas Celebration, which was held on Sunday.  As houseparents wrapped the gifts and placed them under the tree, students began to guess what might be inside.  The weekend was full of fun activities, such as Friday night movies, rec center gatherings and walks to downtown Chamberlain.  Yes, South Dakota’s unseasonably warm temps allowed homes to take walks, play at parks, and shoot hoops outside!

Students scurried to prepare for Sunday’s Mass, especially the fifth graders as they had a special role acting out the Christmas Epiphany.  They came dressed as angels, shepherds, wise men and the blessed holy family – so full of excitement and energy!  The Lady of our Sioux Chapel was full that Sunday as many additional staff was in attendance to celebrate with the students.  Fr. Steve and Fr. Anthony said a beautiful mass as the students gazed.  Students were a little quicker to process out, looking forward to lunch at their home, games and the opening of gifts!

As I floated in and out of different homes, it was obvious that the ‘Christmas Spirit’ was present …  I thought about how blessed we are to be part of the St. Joseph’s Indian School mission and the many gifts that are present in our daily lives because of this.  While the gifts were wrapped and under the tree that day, we must not take for granted the many gifts that are present throughout the year because of your support…   Pilamayathank you!

PS – Watch a short video of the St. Joseph’s Indian School’s youngsters opening presents and saying, “pilamaya – thank you” here!