Guest Blogger: Claire

Three Native American girls showing off their beautiful regalia.
Looking great girls! Juliana, Paite and Grace in their beautiful powwow regalia.

In honor of my Dad’s 70th birthday (Sunday), I am dedicating three sets of regalia I have sewn for St. Joseph’s powwow.  I think this is a fitting tribute.  My Dad’s grandfather was born on the Yankton Indian reservation here in South Dakota, before moving to Michigan in the early 1900’s.

Grandpa kept his heritage a secret, probably because of the prejudices of that period. So many of the great things about my dad are things he learned from his grandpa, and these are things he passed on to my brothers—skills in carpentry, camping, fixing things and telling stories.  Sadly, Dad didn’t learn about his Nakota traditions growing up, so this wasn’t something he was able to share with us kids.  This makes me sad when I think about it.

Later in life, Dad started getting curious about his grandfather’s history, and started learning about Native American traditions and culture.  I think this influenced my decision to work at St. Joseph’s Indian School and to participate in the seventh grade Cultural Trip for the past two years.  I want today’s kids to know and be proud of their culture.

My family history is important to me.  My mother’s family has a proud tradition of sewing.  Busha (my great grandma) used to sew vestments for the parish priest, and I learned to sew on her treadle machine.  I feel closest to my mom and Grammy when I am sewing.  When I make regalia, I feel like I am honoring both of my great-grandmas — my Polish one and my Nakota one.

I am grateful to the donors and supporters of St. Joseph’s Indian School, who make things like powwow, our cultural trip and ceremony possible.  In this season of giving, sometimes the gift of memories and pride are the most lasting of all. Thanks again, Claire!


Donor appreciation luncheons in Denver, CO

All of us with the beautiful icon honoring Saint Kateri Tekakwitha.
The icon honoring Saint Kateri Tekakwitha was beautiful.

Two of our seventh grade students, Kaitlyn and Danielle, traveled to speak at donor appreciation luncheons in Denver, Colorado. We got in early on Friday, and decided to see the Denver Museum of Science and Nature. It’s the kind of place that tricks you into learning by making everything so interesting and fun.

We explored Egyptian mummies, amazing gems and minerals from the Rocky mountains and learned about a variety of Native American cultures. The girls’ favorite was called “Prehistoric Journey.” As we walked past dinosaur skeletons, they were in awe at the size and ancient nature of the beasts.

One of our school nurses, Ronda, chaperoned, and led us through a display like a health fair. After taking part in a variety of activities to measure heart rate, evaluate our walking style for calories burned, see our cells under a microscope, we got a personalized computer print out to take home as a souvenir. The planetarium show gave us a perspective on the massive size of our solar system. My favorite was the 3D movie about life under the sea. I even ducked one time when it looked like a jelly fish was floating past my head!

Our luncheons went well. Danielle and Kaitlyn were a bit nervous speaking at first, but with such a friendly crowd loaded with questions and interest in St. Joseph’s and our Lakota students, they were able to share lots of information and experiences.

We received wonderful hospitality! Donors Bob and Carylyn graciously treated us to supper at a nice Italian restaurant the first night. On Saturday, Alex, Chasson and Lauren invited us for a home cooked meal. We were even treated to a few pre-dinner flamenco style songs on  guitar. The students and I make a game of rating all the new foods they tried, and the girls set a new “record” with 27 new taste treats over the 4 days.

Since the nearest mall to Chamberlain is 135 miles away, what is a routine for most teens is  a special treat for our students, and we had to let the girls wander around the stores for a while.

Sunday night we went to Denver’s Cathedral Basilica for a special mass to honor Saint Kateri Tekakwitha, who was canonized earlier in the day. Kateri was a Mohawk and Algonquin woman and serves as a special inspiration for holiness for Native American Christians. Members of the local Kateri  community wore regalia from their tribes. Bishop James Conley, who led the celebration, has Wea ancestry and blessed the altar by using an eagle feather to smudge the smoke with sage.  The cathedral also dedicated a beautiful icon of Kateri that will help pass on her legacy to future generations.

Guest Blogger: Geri

Hello!  My name is Geri and I joined St. Joseph’s Indian School on August 20.  I’m delighted to be a ‘guest blogger’ and hope to share with you my ‘new to St. Joseph’s’ impressions!

What a warm, welcoming atmosphere!  I’ve had a variety of past work experiences, but none can compare to how welcome and comfortable I’ve been made to feel in the month since I’ve started.  I live in Mitchell and carpool with other St. Joseph’s employees Monday-Thursday and telecommute on Fridays.

Friends and family have asked me how the hour-long commute is going and I’ve honestly responded,

“It goes by remarkably fast, as we’re usually deep in conversation and surprised to see our exit sign.”

I’m amazed by how many people have worked at St. Joseph’s for 20, 25 or 30 years and very outwardly admit,

“I love working here – it’s a great place to work.”

I’ve had an opportunity to meet some of our Native American children and travel to the two reservations that 40% of our students come from, Lower Brule and Crow Creek.   The children are beautiful – and from the two times I’ve dined with them, amazingly polite and well-behaved.

The houseparents I met over dinner recently, Aleece and Leonard, are wonderfully kind and patient and have been at St. Joseph’s since 1988.  Their 1st-3rd grade boys were a joy to be around –proudly showing their regalia for the powwow and honestly remarking on my height (I’m north of 5’10”).

You may be wondering what my job at St. Joseph’s entails – let me tell you about that.  My title is Director of Major Gift Services and currently I’m working to gain an understanding of all that is happening in our development program while working towards the development of a major gifts program.

I have so much to learn, but it’s exciting!  I am looking forward to getting to know our supporters better and finding out what specifically they are passionate about and why they support St. Joseph’s, while at the same time learning all that I can about St. Joseph’s.

Feel free to share your thoughts with me!  My e-mail address is

Guest Blogger: LaRayne

Two Native American girls take a break from powwow practice!
Laurissa and Shawnna take a break from powwow dance practice to smile for the camera!

We are all looking forward to hosting many visitors and friends at our 36th annual St. Joseph’s Indian School Powwow! We are busy having dance practices with St. Joseph’s students.  To date, we have around sixty kids who plan on dancing at our annual powwow.  This number always increases as powwow nears.

The favorite style for the girls is fancy shawl and the boys like grass the best. The dances look simple and easy, but when it comes to being judged at the powwow, there are several elements that come into play.  Not only the foot and body work, but hands, head and accessories also play a part in the judging process.  Having beadwork on one’s regalia is also a plus for the judge’s eye.

Because many of our Native American students only dance at our powwow, it is a challenge to convince them that they must “showcase” themselves to the judges in order to gain points.  All in all, it is a fun time practicing and dancing at our annual powwow.

Our staff are also preparing for powwow.  This is one organization that comes together for one of our many great events of the year.  It is great to see staff, families and our students along with the community, friends and donors share in a great cultural experience.

How many times a day do you pray?

Angela, one of the high school students ran into me as I was returning from chapel after mass.

“How many times a day do you pray?” she asked.

“Three or four”

“That’s a lot”

I need all of those times and more for strength and guidance so I stay on the right track. Most people don’t have the luxury of building long periods of prayer time into their day. I suggest they just find a short prayer phrase they can say to help them before they begin important work like Lord make my heart like your heart, or something simple like, “Lord give me patience and strength” when faced with a difficult challenge.

We wrapped up several programs this past week. Campus is much quieter this week now that our Rising Eagle Day Camp has successfully concluded. Besides our high school students who worked with the younger students, we were blessed with a group of students from Scranton Prep in Pennsylvania. They have been coming to our area for the past eight summers or so to help with various service projects.

I stopped in a few times during the week to see how they were faring and answer questions on topics ranging from St . Joseph’s admission policies to inquiries about Lakota culture. At the end of the week, 17 of us gathered around the two dining room tables in the Ambrose Home, and each person got a chance to share something they’d learned during this time. One young man said that seeing the striking poverty on the Indian reservation he visited opened his eyes to think about those who struggle in his own community. A young woman had a blast working with younger children. She said that she often won’t give her younger siblings much time at all, but realizes now how much impact the care of an older sister can and does make. She recommitted herself to being more present to them when she gets home.

In a mosaic of cultures, the SCJ Schools in Collaboration group was on campus for several days. Students and teachers from Texas, Mississippi and Wisconsin exchanged information about themselves, their school and unique cultures. Our kids got to meet some of their pen pals or folks they’ve gone head to head against in the Battle of the Books. Our students donned their dance regalia and explained the significance of powwows and detailed the differences in the kinds of Native American dances they are trained in. Fr. Anthony accompanied them to the Black Hills and Badlands where everyone came back with great memories and pictures.

We said goodbye to two young woman we grew to appreciate in such a short time. Lauren, who grew up in the Denver area was here exploring both her Lakota roots, and engaged in more discernment about a possible religious vocation. Lauren helped in summer camp and with other projects around campus. She interacted tremendously well with our students, and asked many questions of our Native American staff. Our talks took me back to the days when I was formation director for college seminarians, and was inspired by her talk of faith and love of God. Jessica, an college intern attending Notre Dame, also wrapped up her four weeks here. The anthropology major in her was nourished by our Aktas Lakota Museum and the visits to cultural sites. The people side of her did a great job interacting with our students in a variety of ways.

We have a Bookmobile that travels to many of the Indian reservation communities each summer, putting free books in the hands of kids who are hungry to read. Friday our staff stopped in Fort Thompson, and also had a picnic style meal for families at the Boys and Girls Club.

Ed, a donor from Illinois, stopped by campus to check it out for the first time.

“I wanted to make sure this was a real place and not just a post office box,” he said.

I gave him a tour and he was impressed by all that goes on here. He also got something of a cultural education when he went to Lower Brule, where they were holding a memorial for the parish housekeeper who died one year ago in a tragic car accident when the roadway collapsed due to flooding.

After a memorial mass, the family gathered in the community center, where a Wiping of Tears ceremony was held. A woman symbolically wiped their tears away with a cloth, gently guided an Eagle Feather around their head in a cleansing ritual. They were then given some tobacco to smoke, and water and chokecherry juice to drink. At the conclusion everyone present shook their hands or gave hugs in a show of support. We then sat down to a big meal and giveaway.

Loom beadwork of our Native American youth

Native American loom beading.
Native American loom beading.

Every year, I get to teach an area of Lakota (Sioux) culture that is close to my hands and heart-loom beading.

The 7th grade class has begun the task of learning what it takes to make those beautifully created drops for regalia, barrettes, hair ties, name plates, bracelets and whatever other ideas the kids come up with in their minds and hearts.

We begin with looking at some old and new pieces of beadwork so that the kids can see examples of what they can make.  Some of these items are decades old and some are as new as last year. I also encourage our Native American youth to take a deeper look at any piece of beadwork they come in contact with in their world.

My objectives are many.  I want the kids to connect culture to their hearts, of course; but also to see the difference between designs from tribe to tribe.  Our Lakota (Sioux) designs are very geometric and math is a big part of loom beading.  Counting, centering, dividing, designing, measuring and creating are all a part of this project.  I also encourage understanding the colors and what they may mean to different tribes, individuals and cultures.  The final product is very rewarding for me and the students.  The loom pieces are given as gifts, worn or used for themselves and some are sold to staff for a little extra spending money.  This is also a part of the objectives.  This is an art our culture has done for generations and it can be a money-making venture for someone who is motivated and educated to embrace that challenge and talent.

From here, the students create or find a design they draw out on graph paper.  Next is learning to string the loom appropriately and accurately. I tell the students that the hardest part is threading their needle and putting the first row of beads on their loom (which were made by our very own maintenance department elves in the workshop here on St. Joseph’s Indian School’s campus).  From here, the possibilities are endless.  It is an art you love or don’t.  Many of our students love it.

Today, I am waiting for a response from Fr. Steve who is attending the Lakota Nation Invitation conference in our beautiful Paha Sapa/Black Hills.  I submitted two pieces of loom beadwork from our school and I am hoping for a ribbon to hang by their stocking upon returning from Christmas Break.

Wanikiye taampetu!=Jesus’s birthday/Christmas

LaRayne, Native American Studies Teacher 1st -8th  grades

Here's a beautiful piece from one of our students!
Here's a beautiful piece from one of our students!