The value of giving back

Holiday breaks give me a good excuse to go to church on the nearby Indian Reservations. On Thanksgiving Day, I drove north to Fort Thompson, where a crowd of about 70 gathered to give thanks at mass. Afterwards Sr. Charles, who has worked in the parish and among the Dakota parishioners for over 30 years, cooked three turkeys so anyone in the community who might otherwise be alone, or have a hard time putting together a festive meal, could celebrate the holiday.

Friday was a very quiet day around campus and the office. I got a good start on a lot of the upcoming Christmas correspondence, and tied up loose ends from last week’s travels.

 I checked on the break home to see if they needed anything, but everything was going well. A few more high school students came back on Friday so they can take part in basketball practices, but otherwise things have been quiet. The small group went to St. James parish in downtown Chamberlain for their community Thanksgiving dinner, and stayed afterward to help clean up.

Our homes try to involved the students in service projects like that throughout the year, and teach them the value of giving back generously.

A school bus that will house a video educating visitors about the history of Indian Boarding Schools.
A school bus that will house a video educating visitors about the history of Indian Boarding Schools.

Today, I visited Split Rock Studios in St. Paul Minnesota. They are constructing the displays for our Historical Center. Many are nearing completion and hopefully installation will begin in January. I saw the construction of a school bus that will house a video educating visitors about the history of Indian Boarding Schools. A table made from one of our oldest cottonwood trees that was felled in the building project sat next to a replica tree whose leaves will be filled with alumni memories from their days at St. Joseph. Artifacts like old desks, wheel barrows and dance regalia will help tell the story as well.

What jumped out the most for me was to see photo cut outs of some of our Lakota students, and a few larger than life murals created from images I see around me each day. We hope to have a grand opening in late spring or early summer.

What blessings are you most thankful for

Our Lakota (Sioux) students are streaming in this evening as Thanksgiving break comes to an end. Most are now at the Rec Center where the boys Inter City basketball games are in full swing. We now have just three more weeks of school before Christmas break and I’m sure the time is going to be filled with many activities and also fly by quickly.

Our weather remained sunny and dry this past week which made travel for the families and guardians worry free. On Wednesday, the “official” time for school to dismiss for Thanksgiving break was 2:00, but when I got to the school around 1:45 the largest classroom had just three students left. With so many of the students families spread across all of South Dakota, parents and guardians showed up throughout the day at the times that worked for them. We have a group of over 20 students from the Rosebud Indian reservation, which is two hours distant. The tribe sends a bus to transport them back and forth over the holidays. That bus showed up around 10:00. Many families came around noon and were invited to the dining hall to enjoy a traditional Thanksgiving meal of turkey and all the trimmings.

Several students stayed on campus during the vacation. We have a couple of break homes for students who need to or prefer to be here these days – 9 students in the grade school break home and another half-dozen in the high school program. I stopped in every now and again to check if houseparents needed anything and see how the students were doing. The high school students were mostly involved with basketball practice. The grade school home had lots more fun activities, like a trip to Mitchell, South Dakota (70 miles away) to see a movie. There was also plenty of times for recreation in the home. Samantha and Aralyn taught me how to play Wii tennis on the TV screen – and thrashed me thoroughly of course.

Our homes are normally split between boys and girls homes. In the break home there’s a different dynamic as three families with brothers and sisters were together under one roof. They enjoyed sitting next to each other at table, and spending time with younger siblings.

On Thanksgiving Day, I drove 25 miles north to Fort Thompson on the Crow Creek Indian reservation to go to mass. Afterward, Sr. Charles cooked a turkey and invited people from the community to bring what they could to add to a pot-luck celebration. It was especially nice for those elders who may have been on their own otherwise to have company to eat with, visit and celebrate.

This year I am most thankful that I’ve been able to resume my normal routine of work; I’m glad the cancer is still in remission. What blessings are you most thankful for?

Here I am with the St. Joseph's Indian School float in the background.
Here I am with the St. Joseph's Indian School float in the background.

On Black Friday, the city of Chamberlain sponsored a Parade of Lights downtown. The evening started with a free chili supper at the Fire Hall. Santa greeted us as we rolled in. With the parade theme, “The 12 Days of Christmas” St. Joseph sponsored a float of, “A partridge in a pear tree.” Our break home students rode on walked alongside the float. Instead of candies, they passed out dreamcatcher keychains. Maybe not as tasty, but practical and longer lasting.

My fingers are sore from writing staff Christmas cards, which I have spent significant time doing while the office and school have been closed. Instead of just signing my name I try to write a few personal words to each person who works here. I am so grateful for the dedicated staff here at St. Joseph’s Indian School who do so much for our students. While running a residential school with 200 students is a big job, when each do their part, it somehow–thanks be to God–all comes together.