Magical and inspirational places

We all had so much fun exploring the Black Hills!
We all had so much fun exploring the Black Hills!

We experienced two of South Dakota’s best known mountains today. One must see is, of course, Mount Rushmore, where we took our German exchange students for the essential photo ops. While their command of English is quite good, they were pleased to find a good selection of the monument’s brochures in German, which made it nice for souvenirs for friends and family back home. Besides the famous faces, our students took almost as many pictures of the stray mountain goat that wandered into the parking lot.

I’ve been to Mount Rushmore many many times. Seeing it through the eyes of visitors for the first time helps make it a magical and inspirational place.

In contrast with Mount Rushmore’s huge gifts store, cafeteria and all the amenities, Harney Peak is in the Black Elk wilderness area, accessible only by a long hike. We carried water and snacks in our back packs. Atop the 7,400 foot peak, the highest point east of the Rockies, stands a fire watch tower. It was built in the 1930’s by the Civilian Conservation Core, and staffed until the early 80’s. From the peak you can see about 50 miles in every direction. Spectacular! The Lakota holy man Black Elk spoke of his vision quest in this very area.

The hike was strenuous, with about a thousand foot climb up 3 miles of trail. For me coming back down was harder in spots than going up. The loop took us about four hours. We staggered our group of 18, and let everyone go at their own pace. We had a bus key at the end in case anyone got tired, but I was most impressed that everyone completed the pilgrimage.

I couldn’t keep up with most of the high school students. When they reached the top some still had energy to burn and explored the rocks and ledges surrounding the peak. I had some time with hiking companions, but more time alone, and that time was prayerful and meditative. When the going got tough, I thought of what it must have been like for Jesus to carry his cross along a rocky road, in far more difficult circumstances. I also remembered the people I’ve climbed the trail with in previous years, and lifted them up in prayer.

When we got back to Rapid City, we finished the evening at a buffet restaurant, where the tired but satisfied group refueled and recounted their adventures along the trail. Tomorrow I’ll head back to Chamberlain, while the group heads further west to experience Devil’s Tower.

St. Joseph’s Indian School’s 36th annual powwow is in the books

Our 36th annual powwow is in the books! I’m weary, but it’s the good kind of tired from a wonderful day.

As visitors streamed onto campus, they boarded our mini buses and were shuttled around campus for morning tours of Our Lady of the Sioux Chapel and four of the residential homes where the boys and girls live on St. Joseph’s campus. Houseparents prepared snacks for our guests, and students volunteered to give tours of the homes. The most enthusiastic were the 1st – 3rd grade girls of Afra Home, who  at times led people by the hand, tugging them along to see the playroom or laundry and tell them about all they’ve already learned from life in the Home.

Our students were polite, respectful, excited and touched people’s hearts. Our ever-present blue-shirted St. Joseph’s staff members drew countless praise as they made folks feel welcome, answered questions and made sure people had directions to the places they needed to go next.

Dave, our powwow arena director, kept things moving along and made sure people were in the right place and time for ceremonies and competitions. Virgil, our PA announcer entertained with humorous banter, encouraged dancers and educated visitors with his explanations of what they were seeing on the powwow grounds.

Besides our own St. Joseph students, many young people came from surrounding areas. When 150 dancers processed in during the Grand Entry, the colorful spectacle was a beauty to behold. We had ten drum groups rotating the songs, including our St. Joseph’s student group – “the Chalk Hills Singers

The last couple of years, weather for the powwow has been on the cool side. Today, the sun was out much of the day and temperatures climbed into the high 80’s. The energetic dancers certainly worked up a good sweat! Spectators coveted the shady spots and more than a few took a mid-day break in our air-conditioned Akta Lakota Museum.

At supper we served stew and fixings at the picnic pavilion, feeding over 900 guests, students and family members. After the judges’ points were totaled, we announced the award winning dancers and passed out prizes. As the sun set over the majestic Missouri River and people headed home with pictures and memories, our facilities crew was already tearing down and putting the football field back to it’s normal configuration. Next year’s powwow will be the weekend of September 21, so make your plans now to join us!

Watch this beautiful video of this year’s powwow!

Hau, Taŋyáŋ yahi – Greetings from everyone at the Akta Lakota Museum

Construction continues . . . (Read the previous construction update here!)

The Alumni/Historical Center has made great progress!
Medicine Wheel Garden Site

The addition of the new Tokéya uŋkí nájiŋpi (We stood here in the beginning) Alumni/Historical Center has made great progress since July.  Most of the structure’s exterior work is complete and contractors are now busy working on the interior of the building.

At this point we are really in the final stages, installing lights, cabinets and wall and floor coverings.  The final completion date of the project is scheduled for October 1 and everyone is getting excited to move in.

Once the building construction is complete, we will begin Phase II of the project. This includes installation of the Tokéya uŋkí nájiŋpi exhibits and renovation work to the existing museum building and exhibits.

Mni Wićoni - water is life
Mni Wićoni – water is life

Other projects going on outside of the building are the addition of a Medicine Wheel Garden and the expansion of our parking lot; the museum and the Rec Center share a parking lot and things get pretty tight during the school year when sporting activities are in full swing.  In an effort to alleviate the problem the parking area will be expanded, adding additional parking spaces and a specific area designated for bus parking.  The improvement to the site will make the area much safer for our students and visitors.

This Medicine Wheel Garden area is shaping up as well.  The water wall element was installed last month and looks beautiful. The wall is inscribed with the Lakota words Mni Wićoni which translates to “water is life.”  The glu-lam beams for the arbor are in place and the pre-cast colors of the medicine wheel have been installed.  It is really progressing nicely.

Akta Lakota Museum Front Entrance
Akta Lakota Museum Front Entrance

If you are planning to visit our area please don’t let our construction scare you away.  As construction progresses we will continue to maintain regular museum hours as much as possible and extend a heartfelt welcome to everyone! We hope you can stop by and check out our progress.

Pilamayathank you!  Dixie

This week at St. Joseph’s day camp …

As of today, over 400 Native American children have attended St. Joseph’s Rising Eagle Day Camp!

It’s been a great week to spend with kids from the Crow Creek Sioux Indian Reservation.

Monday was sunny and hot day, which was great for playing outside! We picked up some toys from Central Receiving, including toy trucks and cars for the sand box, walking stilts and pogo sticks. We also found an assortment of different balls and camp staff taught the kids to play 4-square and hopscotch.

Two Native American boys learning about a boat!
Day Camp is going great!

Tuesday we had the Water Safety Course as our morning activity. The children really enjoyed riding around on the water and steering the small boats. Many thanks to our local Game, Fish & Parks office and the Army Corps of Engineers for their presentation.

Wednesday, there were 47 children waiting for the camp bus, plus five dogs and some puppies. They even tried to get on the bus!

Back at St. Joseph’s, we had one little girl who was upset and wouldn’t tell us what was wrong. Thanks to some TLC from Mary Jane, she was soon eating lunch and joined her group outside at the playground. Thanks Mary Jane!

Each child received a toothbrush and toothpaste as they get off the bus to go home today.

Thursday was another beautiful, hot day! We had lots of fun with our usual activities – playing outside games, swimming and crafts. Everything went great.

Next week, we’ll head to the Lower Brule Sioux Reservation to pick up day campers!

Producing teary, but appreciative eyes

Today was the last full day of school here at St. Joseph’s Indian School. At day’s end the students gathered in the school gym for the perfect and outstanding attendance awards. Thirty-eight children made it to school every day (which is made a bit easier when you live on campus) but still, that meant getting to and from breaks on time and showing up to learn day in and day out.

As an incentive to get students to make such an effort, we take a portion of the Box Tops for Education that donors send to us, and buy some nice end-of-the-year prizes. Bikes are always a favorite, and eight children took home a bicycle. Some students chose a camera or MP3 player as an alternative. Most of the older students opted for a gift card to the local clothing store to supplement their wardrobe with something new and in style.

Our eighth graders had a morning retreat led by Fr. Anthony. Many of the staff wrote them letters of support and memories. They had a half an hour to read through those, producing several teary but appreciative eyes. When you live at a school 24/7, the memories of the many things students and staff share are even stronger.

Afterwards, we practiced for tomorrow’s graduation, so everyone knew where to sit and process and receive. Lunch brought a pizza party for the graduates-to-be in the gym. The students went on to an afternoon matinee, while I opted to go back to the office and take care of the paperwork that is the constant part of an administrator’s job.

Those students who have relatives graduating will stay another day. Most of the other students headed home shortly after the school bell rang. We’ll still have about 50 students next week as summer programs begin, but others said goodbye next August 12, when we start all over again.