Notes from Ms. Maclean

Felicia Vinces (Nightingale), Damaris Maclean (Nightingale), Helene Gaddie (Pine Ridge), Cathy Lynch (Agnes Irwin)

Reflections on our trip to visit the Anpo Wicahpi School in Pine Ridge, South Dakota

“If there is one thing that I would like you to bring home with you and share is that Wotakuye or kinship is the most important aspect of Lakota culture.”

- Ethleen Iron Cloud Two Dogs, Lakota Educator, speaking with the Nightingale-Bamford and Agnes Irwin schools on Sunday, March 18th, 2018

Ethleen’s Lakota name is “She Who Takes the Robe.” It is a warrior name, inherited from her grandfather who pulled the blanket from under an American soldier on his horse as they both fought in a battle over Indian territories. “You will need to be brave and strong,” her father told her. During our first evening in Pine Ridge, Ethleen led us through a visualization of breathing ourselves home, calling all parts of ourselves back so that they would not be left behind in the hurriedness of our day, a Lakota ritual practiced after all travel. She introduced basic Lakota concepts of family and cycles of life. Explaining that much of the any current misery among the Lakota people stems from the disconnection from one another and from these important cycles. Over the course of their life time, Lakota participant in important ceremonies and rituals, marking both personal milestones, as well as annual ceremonies. The Buffalo Nation has been the great teacher for the Lakota people teaching about the sacred places, about the Stars, conservation, and protection of children as sacred. The Buffalo Nation is a source of both spiritual and nutritional nourishment. In Ethleen’s presence, we sensed the sacred. We were quiet, calm, and grounded. In her humble, gracious, regal way, she asked us to tell the world about the resilience of the Lakota people, despite years of genocide, broken treaties, abusive boarding schools, and the legal prohibition of Lakota language, culture, and religious practices. She told us about the beauty, the love, and the revival of tradition to heal the community by cherishing and honoring kinship.

Though school was cancelled due to a snow day on our first full day in Pine Ridge, Lakota language teacher Dusty Nelson brought us to the school for a tour and introduction to the school. She showed us the beautifully decorated rooms and described the curriculum and the flow of the week and the school day. She explained that the girls must participate in Lakota traditions and ceremonies, taking the Lakota language as well. Each Monday the girls participate in a sweat ceremony with the goal of purification and renewal. On Fridays, the energy that the girls have left behind in the building is cleared by “smudging” with sage embers thoughout. She explained that the mission of the school is to give girls options for college study by preparing them academically and socially, while also teaching the Lakota culture. For example, science is taught through the lens of Lakota knowledge. The teacher loves to share how the Lakota people understood many aspects of science before they were conventionally discovered or proven.

Like Ethleen and Tom Short Bull (at the Oglala Lakota College), Dusty talked about broken promises. She explained the sacred nature of the Black Hills and the Badlands which had been promised to the Lakota before gold was discovered. Mining for gold, creating a memorial to presidents who permitted the betrayal of the Lakota people at Mount Rushmore, and naming peaks after those who led the massacre of the Lakota people have been deeply painful. She spoke with tearful pride about the children (teenagers) who began the protest at Standing Rock, which they consider to be yet another broken treaty. Like Ethleen she is deeply proud of the resilience and strength of her people. She urged our students to use their voices and show their power, serving as role models of strength and empowerment for the Pine Ridge students who need to know about their own power. Dusty was an incredible role model for the teachers on this trip.

Helene Gaddie was a third inspirational and powerful female leader, an indigenous scientist. She led us on a tour of the Badlands explaining the significance of the land in its geology and spirituality. With humor, enthusiasm and reverence, she led the students from all three schools (Anpo Wicahpi, Agnes Irwin, and Nightingale) through a landscape like no other.

Felicia Vinces, Cathy Lynch, and I were incredibly honored to join our students on this trip. The students from the East Coast relied on one another to process their experiences, to laugh and to clarify. They were friendly, curious and respectful of the people whom we met in Pine Ridge. We are eager to return, but not without sharing our experiences widely in our home communities.