Guest Blogger: Claire

Lakota girls posing for a picture.
The girls had a great time on their trip!

Hello again!  Only a few short weeks ago, I was writing about the upcoming Cultural Trip with the incoming eighth-grade girls.  I was very excited, because we had been planning for months, and I was eager to get on the road!

As the saying goes, if you want to hear God laugh, tell him your plans.  The morning we left, we experienced a change in staff, kids, itinerary and vehicles.  Yikes!  We repacked our gear, reprinted our route, piled onto the mini-bus and headed out for a week of winging it.  This turned out to be a blessing.

Uncertainty is a great prioritizer.  Instead of focusing on where we were going to be and when, we shifted more towards how we were going to be and why.  Our first evening together, we did not do anything on our itinerary.  The world did not come to an end.

Instead of hurrying to get somewhere, we stopped to celebrate Cassidy’s birthday at the Golden Corral.  As luck would have it, Fr. Steve was able to join us.  Of course, we waited until he left the table to practice a Pinger Home birthday tradition: whipped cream in the face.  What, who, us?

We got to our campsite early, and spent the evening making prayer ties/prayer flags.  April guided the girls through the process, explaining the use of sage and tobacco and the connections between colors and directions.  Since Fr. Steve wasn’t able to join is for this, the girls decided they would each make him a prayer flag, that way he would have prayers for climbing Bear Butte too.  Praying together in this way built a sense of belonging, both to each other and to something bigger.  This was a very positive way to start of our journey together, talking about hopes and dreams, prayers and intentions.

Two girls and Fr. Steve at the top of Bear Butte.
“We made it to the top!”

Letting go of expectations and just being in the moment was an ongoing theme for the week.  The morning we met Fr. Steve at Bear Butte, it was so foggy that we actually drove past the mountain without seeing it.  The trails were wet and visibility was low, and we weren’t sure if we should attempt the climb in these conditions.

We just decided to carry our prayer ties and hike for however long we needed to.  Some of the girls got as far as the third switchback and had enough.  A few more kept on for quite a ways longer and then headed back as well.  Some girls just kept going.  A little further.  And then a little further.   Finally, we just committed to making it to the top.   There wasn’t much to see in the fog—no scenic overlooks, no way to trace the path ahead or behind.  What seemed disappointing at first turned out to be a gift. The fog actually made it easier to stay in the moment.  Having to focus on each step along the way meant not being distracted by what was “way over there.”   Not “having to” make it to the summit made it easier to enjoy the process of getting there.

We had similar experiences the following day at Mato Tipila, more commonly known as Devil’s Tower. The girls said “Let’s walk the long trail!”  (Is this ever a good idea?)   But it was sunny and bright, and it seemed like a lovely day to take the long road.  So off we went, pausing every so often to pose for pictures, pick sage or sniff the trees. (The pine trees smell like cinnamon rolls.  I kid you not.)

Hiking group at Devil's Tower.
We had a beautiful day at Devil’s Tower.

After about two hours, I admit I started to get a bit nervous.  It was hot, we hadn’t seen any other hikers for quite some time, and it seemed like we were not anywhere close to being done.  Ellie and I had just crested ANOTHER long hill, when a soft breeze picked up.  Ellie looked at me and said, “I think Grandfather is looking out for us.”  A minute later, two hikers passed us going in the opposite direction and assured us cheerfully that we were “almost there.”  Bless you, Ellie.

Sometimes setbacks opened up into opportunities: our dinner plans with friends of April’s fell through.  Instead, we were invited to an inipi  – sweat lodge.  Three girls who were nervous about trying something new decided to take a leap of faith and take part in the ceremony.

Other times, opportunities for learning and sharing arose spontaneously. While out walking, several of the girls started to ask about Lakota/Dakota names for the animals.  They shared phrases that they had learned from their grandmothers, or asked April, “How do you say….”

While touring United Tribes Technical College, one girl said,

“I hadn’t even thought about college before, but I can really see myself going here.”

Although we had times of being prayerful and serious, we rarely missed an opportunity to get silly—lip-syncing at passing traffic on the bus, setting marshmallows on fire, falling down on the trails, incessantly shouting “Inkpaduta!!”  Inkpaduta is the name of one of the quarries at Pipestone National Monument.  It really caught on.

I asked the girls what their favorite moments on the trip were.  Several responses involved someone falling on their behinds while hiking – they are eighth graders, after all. Other girls mentioned that they liked having a chance to participate in ceremony (inipi, prayer ties, sacred pipe).  Others liked seeing new places, especially Devil’s Tower.

For me, I needed the reminder that it was ok to let go and trust.  I could have faith that God would guide April and I, and that everything would work out the way it needed to.  I also needed to be reminded that we weren’t going this alone, that we had support from staff, family, friends and donors.  I’m already planning on going again next year … knock on wood!

Guest Bloggers: Jennie & Sarah

Hi, I’m Sarah and I’ve been at St. Joseph’s Indian School for 11 years.

And I’m Jennie; I’ve been at St. Joseph’s Indian School for 17 years.

We’d like to give you an inside look into one of the biggest days here at St. Joseph’s: 8th Grade Graduation. Continue reading to hear about our exciting day!

St. Joseph's Indian School's graduating class of 2012.
Congratulations graduating class of 2012!

As the year comes to an end, the eighth graders become extremely excited, but also anxious.  They are anticipating their eighth grade graduation and all of the banquets, ceremonies, and special gifts that go along with it.  Along with all of these great things, there can also be some nervousness for our Native American students.  It may be the students are envisioning their first day of high school at a new school, or they may still be unsure of where they want to go to high school.  This is my seventh year of eighth grade graduation.  One would think I would be used to this chaotic order of the end of the year… However, I too, as an adult, still get caught up in the excitement and anxiety.

St. Joseph’s does something special for our kids in these last few days.  We offer them what we call our Eighth Grade Retreat, where all eighth graders spend some time together, along with a few staff, and discuss high school and the future.  We reinforce what a wonderful time of their life they have ahead of them, but also that they may experience struggles along this way.  We encourage these students and remind them that, during those times of trouble, they must remain confident in themselves, keep their faith in God strong, and also that they can lean on their St. Joseph’s family.  We then give students special letters that have been written for them from the staff and faculty of St. Joseph’s.  These letters are a surprise to the students.  Sometimes the letters bring tears and sometimes they bring laughs, but most of all they offer the students support.  They show someone here at St. Joseph’s will continue thinking of them even though they may not see the student as often.

The students have an opportunity to say, “Thank you” to family and friends.

The day continues on with a pizza lunch, where staff are invited to give their congratulations to the graduates and a trip to the movie theatre with their fellow eighth grade classmates.  The day is full of emotion.  I have asked students in the past what their favorite part of the day was.  Most students respond with reading the letters.  For me, this affirms the purpose of the retreat and most definitely the personal letters to the students.  It validates the time spent doing them and most of all I go away feeling as though I have given the students my best.  I’ve taught them Science, I’ve attempted to teach them social skills, but most important of all I’ve told them I care.

Then on Friday the big day is finally upon us!  Students are with their families and friends in the morning getting dressed up, sharing breakfast and having pictures taken.  They report to the chapel around 10:45 am for final instructions and line-up in preparation for the 11 am start.  This is a fun time as the students are excited and nervous and are just enjoying the moment.  Once the actual graduation begins there is some nervousness as they walk down the aisle in front of family, friends and staff.  The students generally relax once every one is in and seated and the actual ceremony begins.  The students participate by doing the prayers of petition, thanking our guest speaker and reading a friendship poem usually written by one of our eighth graders.

Their faces truly begin to beam when it is time to receive their eighth grade certificate.  Again the nerves show a bit as they walk up in front of everyone and pose for a picture but the pride is evident.  Next the Rose Ceremony, a favorite time for our students, begins.  They are given two roses which they present to their families as a thank you for all of their support and love throughout the years.  They also write thank you notes to family and staff that are delivered during this time as well.  Then the most fun moment of all is the slide show.  Each student is represented by baby pictures progressing through their eighth grade graduation picture and then they personally share their favorite memories in a short video clip.  The students then proceed to the receiving line where everyone greats them with congratulations and good luck!!

Family and friends congratulate the recent graduates.

Our students then officially begin their transition home and onto the next steps into their futures.  This is a very bittersweet time for all of us who work with these students.  We are so very proud and excited for each of them but a little saddened as we know we will need to let go as they move on.

It is truly our pleasure to be a part of these young lives and appreciate the families giving us the opportunity to Serve and Teach, Receive and Learn.  Honestly, it’s the greatest gift in the world! 🙂