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Cultural Trip Forms St. Joseph’s Indian School Students for Future Leadership Role

By: Clare Willrodt, St. Joseph’s Indian School

St. Joseph Indians Cultural Trip

(Chamberlain, S.D.) – On a cloudy May afternoon, the 17 seventh-grade students of St. Joseph’s Indian School—a member of the American Indian Catholic Schools Network— huddled in prayer before embarking on the trip that has become a spiritual and cultural rite of passage for the school’s students. The journey, which has undergone some changes during the pandemic year, is unchanged in its tradition of forming these students into the school’s leaders when school opens next fall.

The smoke from the sage smudge used in prayer hung in the air as students boarded the buses that took them to the sacred sites of their Native American Heritage. Over the next five days, they visited Little Bighorn Battlefield, Greasy Grass, Matȟó Thípila (Devil’s Tower), Bear Butte, PeŠlá in the heart of the Black Hills, Black Elk Peak and the Badlands. Weather kept them from Wind Cave and Crazy Horse. Their spring coursework in Native American Studies class prepared them to understand the spiritual, cultural and historical significance of each site they visited. When possible along the way, they heard from experts.

Upon returning, Jordin Hawk, member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, said, “It meant everything to find out more about my culture. I could feel my ancestors close to me as we walked and drove the sacred places.” Asked about her favorite part of the trip, she said without hesitating, “Bear Butte. I have so many childhood memories from there. When we got to the top, we tied our prayer ties to a tree. As I walked away, I felt I left all my stress behind.”

Mike Tyrell, the school’s president, joined a two-day leg of the trip. “I participated in the hike at Bear Butte and heard a presentation by Ben Rhodd, well-known indigenous archeologist of the Northern Plains. The activities gave students a better understanding of cultural aspects important to the Lakota, Dakota and Nakota people. Though they are young, this experience plants seeds for their future growth.” He added how accompanying staff were a supportive and invaluable part of the trip.

On Tuesday, May 25, they gathered in a large conference room on campus to develop Google Slides about their experience. These presentations are the way they share back their learning with younger students and step into their leadership role.

More Than 220 Native American students in first through twelfth grade find hope and opportunity through our educational, counseling, and residential programs. Strengthened by spirituality and culture, St. Joseph’s Indian School transforms lives—mind, body, heart and spirit—every day.

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