We Must Write Our Own Stories

February 4, 2018

Vi Waln




The conservative Argus Leader newspaper sent a journalist to He Dog school in November to do a story on an initiative established through a grant, to increase Lakota language and culture in the classroom. The article was released last month and upset many people. I viewed the article as another example of poverty porn.


Lakota people have been subject to poverty porn for years. When wasicu reporters try to write authentic Lakota news reports, the result is often poverty porn. A classic example of poverty porn was the Dateline episode that Diane Sawyer did at Pine Ridge a few years back. Wasicu reporters and journalists can’t share a genuine Lakota perspective on any topic. They are not Lakota.


These news stories are the result of wasicu journalists being called upon to write our stories. Personally, I was offended that a wasicu reporter was allowed into my community school to do such a negative report on the work being done there. Those of us who work in the journalism field wonder why Lakota reporters are overlooked when it comes to writing news articles on Lakota students attending schools on Indian reservations.


It’s another example of how we are invisible to mainstream society and oftentimes, our own people who live off the reservation. There are many educated, capable Lakota journalists in South Dakota. I’m sure we’re all wondering why one of us wasn’t commissioned to write this story.


We have intelligent tribal citizens living on the Rosebud and Pine Ridge reservations. Many of our tribal people hold advanced college degrees and display a strong work ethic to support their family. It’s a slap in the face for all of us to read one ignorant reporter’s story about failing Lakota children from the Rosebud Indian Reservation.


A group of concerned parents, grandparents, educators, students and community members spoke out at a meeting in Parmelee, SD on February 3, 2018. People expressed their concerns about the inaccuracies of the story. Many of those in attendance emphasized how Lakota culture and language have been a part of the curriculum at He Dog school for a very long time.


In fact, the late Christine Dunham was my Lakota studies teacher when I attended He Dog as an elementary student. The foundation she created at the school has blossomed. Today, there is at least 1 certified teacher who is a fluent Lakota speaker, she incorporates our language and culture into her classroom activities on a daily basis. We also have paraprofessional and support staff who are fluent Lakota speakers.




Lakota culture and language in our schools cannot be attributed to just one administrator, like the article suggests. It’s a collective effort of the teachers, paraprofessionals and support staff to incorporate Lakota activities into the daily experiences offered to students at all levels. Yet, the crucial work happening today in Lakota language was not the focus of the report.


For instance, many students participate in drum group by rendering the Lakota Flag song every morning before classes start. This is a cultural activity that’s been going on at several schools for at least a decade. Many of those Lakota students also attend and sing at our ceremonies, a fact that isn’t known to people who don’t attend ceremony at all.


Lakota children are smart. I’ve long believed that the intelligence level of our Lakota students shouldn’t be determined by the wasicu designed assessments our students must suffer every semester. The Argus Leader article states 1 in 10 students at He Dog are below grade level in reading. I’ve learned that the test scores of the Kindergarten students attending He Dog school actually increased from the levels they were at last fall. This is another fact that was not mentioned.


I encourage the parents, grandparents, educators and community members who were in attendance at the February 3 meeting to continue to voice their concerns. If you are a parent of a Todd County student, your help is needed. This grassroots movement is just beginning. This is our school district and we have to get involved to help our children have the best educational experience they can.


Future meetings will be advertised by members of the organizing group. We need you to attend all the meetings they request your presence at. If you want to be involved in changing things at He Dog school, as well as the entire Todd County School District, please come to a meeting.


The group plans to attend the Rosebud Sioux Tribe’s Education Committee meeting on February 7 at 1pm in Rosebud, SD. They also plan to attend the Todd County School Board meeting on February 12 in Mission, SD.


Our children are depending on you to tell the world they are smart Lakota students who should be supported by positive news reports, instead of the classic poverty porn published by wasicu journalists who will never be able to articulate a true Lakota perspective on anything.



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Published by Vi Waln


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