Students participate in Lakota Immersion Program

Six Sacred Heart Greenwich students and three faculty members ventured to the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota June 8 to June 14.  Living Goal Three of the Sacred Heart Goals and Criteria, “a social awareness which impels to action,” the students immersed themselves in the Lakota culture by assisting in classrooms at the Red Cloud Indian School, a private, Catholic school on the reservation.  The students were also exposed to the poverty that consumes the reservation and its effects on the Lakota community.

Upper School students, back row: Michala Rogers ’21, Caroline Guza ’21, Maddie Bertrand ’21, Sydney O’Connor, front row: Mia Cesare ’21, Lara Patricio ’21, learned about Lakota tradition and how the community in the reservation dedicates itself to preserving its culture.  Courtesy of Mia Cesare ‘21.

Faculty members Ms. Joyce Reed, Middle School Science Teacher, Dr. Saffron Castle, Upper School Science Teacher and Academic Dean, and Ms. Annette Grueterich, Middle School Art and Computer Art Teacher, accompanied juniors Madeleine Bertrand, Mia Cesare, Caroline Guza, Sydney O’Connor, Lara Patricio, and Michala Rogers on the trip.  The students learned about the lifestyle of the Lakota people with different speakers each night.  Visits to the Crazy Horse Memorial and Wind Cave National Park in Custer County, South Dakota expanded their knowledge of Native American history.  They were also taught common Lakota phrases and words and learned about the traditional Lakota Sun Dance.

Spending the majority of their time at the Red Cloud Indian School, the students worked with the Kindergarten children in the Lakota immersion program.  During this program, the children are only allowed to speak in Lakota.  The goal of the program is to preserve the Lakota culture through educating the younger children about the Lakota traditions and language.

The children’s dedication to protecting the Lakota culture and language had a lasting impact on Mia. 

“It was inspiring to see such young children carrying out the Lakota traditions,” Mia said.  “I was so impressed with the children’s ability to read and sing in Lakota.  This was my favorite experience at Pine Ridge because I loved interacting with the younger children and watching them keep their culture alive.” 

The students fostered relationships with the children, finding their positivity and happiness to be contagious.  The courage with which the young children handled the severe poverty and hardships they experience on a daily basis impressed Sydney.

“My favorite part of Pine Ridge was making connections with the children at Red Cloud Indian School,” Sydney said.   “Although these children faced immense poverty and had problems in their families, they came to summer school every day with a positive attitude, ready to learn.  This was so inspiring to me and it showed me how positivity can overcome your hardships.”

Michala Rogers ’21, Maddie Bertrand ’21, Lara Patricio ’21, Mia Cesare ’21, Sydney O’Connor ’21, and Caroline Guza ’21 met with Ms. Randi Gibbons, the elementary school athletic director and alumna of Red Cloud Indian School, to learn about the Lakota culture.  Courtesy of Ms. Joyce Reed.

During the trip, the Sacred Heart students learned about the reservation’s devastating poverty and how it affects the Lakota people.  The Pine Ridge Reservation, which is the size of Connecticut, is one of the poorest counties in the United States.  There is one hospital on the Lakota land, and unemployment and alcoholism consume the Lakota people, according to re-member.org.

Mia also reflected on the impact of poverty on the reservation and the Lakota population.

The food in the supermarket was priced high, which forces the community to turn to fast-food restaurants and develop health risks,” Mia said.  “Unfortunately, the severe poverty makes it so much harder for the Lakota people to fully embrace their Lakota culture.”

Sydney feels the Lakota service trip enhanced her awareness of a lifestyle vastly different than her own.

“It was important for me to step outside my privileged life in order to get a perspective on the challenges the Lakota Native Americans face,” Sydney said.  “This trip was unique in so many ways and all that I learned was invaluable.”

Ms. Reed, who has visited the Pine Ridge Reservation five times, thinks it is important for Sacred Heart students to maintain the relationship with the Red Cloud Indian School and to gain insight into the lives of the Lakota people.

“I think it is vital that students have the opportunity to hear experiences and opinions from an Indigenous perspective, in this case the Lakota,” Ms. Reed said.  “We also feel deeply that it is important for our faculty to actively maintain our relationship with Red Cloud Indian School.  This relationship is like any living thing–it must be regularly nourished.  The annual student trip is an essential ingredient of that nourishment.”

Featured Image by Natalie Dosmond ’21