Why We Remember Wounded Knee

December 27, 2018

Vi Waln

Dewey Beard
Spotted Elks band on their way to Pine Ridge Agency was intercepted by soldiers. They had their Hotchkiss guns ready for battle, soldiers waiting guns loaded. Wasu Maza aka Dewey Beard rode ahead of the caravan, approached the soldiers. He dismounted and shoved his arm down the barrel of the Hotchkiss gun! Counting coup! Let the soldiers know he wasn’t afraid, still upset over the murder of Sitting Bull. Although many of his family were murdered that next day, himself wounded badly, he lived to be 97 years old. Courtesy photo.

It is winter on the Great Plains. This is the time of the year when our ancestors fled after the murder of Sitting Bull. There were sick, elderly, children and women all traveling in the caravan. They headed south towards Pine Ridge, walking as fast as they could. They were intercepted by the Seventh Cavalry near Porcupine Butte and were escorted to Wounded Knee Creek. Despite a white flag of surrender raised by Chief Spotted Elk, many in the group were viciously murdered by soldiers armed with Hotchkiss guns on December 29, 1890.

Soon after the guns went silent, a prairie blizzard covered the killing fields, halting any recovery efforts for three days. After the storm subsided, those who traveled to the massacre site were witness to the frozen bodies of our murdered ancestors. A photographer documented the horror of the Wounded Knee massacre for all of eternity.

Recently, I was asked “what the memory of the massacre Wounded Knee means to the folks on Pine Ridge and beyond; why it is so important for it to be remembered?”

The memory of the Wounded Knee massacre lives in all of the Lakota/Dakota/Nakota people, as well as Indigenous citizens of other nations. There are times when I wonder about the photos. If the photographer hadn’t been there during the recovery of bodies, we would not have seen how the killing fields looked after the blizzard. So, the eternal memory of a mass burial of our murdered ancestors was captured by the photographer.

Another memory ingrained in the minds of the Lakota/Dakota/Nakota people is that our ancestors were killed and then buried without proper ceremony. That is, there was no sacred food sent to the spirit world with Chief Spotted Elk or any other of the relatives murdered.

Our ancestors were starving. They also were living in an era when there was little hope of survival for those whom refused to be contained by the fenced in reservation, which was perceived to be a prisoner of war camp. Our ancestors embraced the Ghost Dance brought by Short Bull, with the blessing of Wovoka.

The Ghost Dance ceremony was initially held by a Paiute prophet named Wodziwob. The Ghost Dance movement, subsequently founded by Wovoka, promised a return to the way of life before the coming of the wasicu. Our people began praying and dancing with faith the ceremony would save them from the wasicu.

Shortly after the Wounded Knee massacre, rituals and ceremony brought to the Lakota by Pte San Win (White Buffalo Calf Woman), were outlawed by the federal government. During this time, our people conducted ceremony in secret. Our spiritual ways were never lost, as many of our ancestors risked being imprisoned to keep the Lakota ceremonies alive and far away from the scrutiny of the wasicu police.

After the ceremonies were declared against the law, the wasicu attempted to replace our spiritual way of life with Christianity, which was another form of trauma that many of us still suffer from today. Yet, Christian prayer will not stop the ceremonial renaissance we see today. The attempts to colonize our people away from the Cannunpa have failed.

So, when I am asked “what the memory of the massacre Wounded Knee means to the folks on Pine Ridge and beyond; why it is so important for it to be remembered?” I have to say our memories are important as they have resulted in many Lakota people leading our children back to ceremony.

The knowledge of what the wasicu is capable of, specifically the murder of innocent Lakota/Dakota/Nakota and the attempt to strip the Oyate of our spirituality, is why it is so important to remember Wounded Knee.

It’s LNI Week

December 9, 2018

Vi Waln

The Lakota Nation Invitational (LNI) will once again host large groups of student athletes and scholars as they compete in a full program of high school activities. The forty second annual Lakota Nation Invitational will celebrate the athletic talents, academic skills and cultural knowledge of our Indigenous youth.

What began as a small All-Indian Boys Basketball Tourney on the Pine Ridge Reservation has evolved into an action-packed program of athletic events which include the showcasing of talent in in basketball, cheerleading, cross-country, golf, volleyball, wrestling and archery. LNI also has academic competitions and cultural activities for students. These include the Art Show, Lakota Language Bowl, Business Plan Writing, Poetry Slam, Hand Game Tournament and the Knowledge/Quiz Bowl. Friday’s Grand Entry of Lakota veterans, wacipi dancers, athletes, officials and participants of all LNI activities is always a high-energy event to attend.

Lakota children are the crown jewel of our Oyate. It’s an awesome way to end the year by supporting the talent of our young people as they participate in sports, cultural and academic events. The youth whom participate are often the current role models for countless grade school students who are now dreaming of showcasing their sport, academic and cultural skills at a future LNI event.

Many of our families travel to watch the fast-paced basketball action played on several courts throughout the four-day tourney. Some of the best high school basketball games in the region are played during the LNI Tourney. The basketball tourney is certainly on par with any state basketball championship tourney and often attracts national attention.

It takes a lot of hard work and requires year-round planning by the Board of Directors to organize a successful LNI. Participating schools send staff members as volunteers to work at the events throughout the weekend. These school employees devote their free time by working long hours to help the event run smoothly. We appreciate their sacrifice as unofficial ambassadors of this winter holiday classic.

Tonya Whirlwind Soldier participated in many runs during her life, including a Cancer Awareness Run held in the He Dog Community. Photo by Vi Waln.

Sadly, most of our people and students attending the 2018 Lakota Nation Invitational are in mourning. In fact, this year’s LNI excitement is dampened by the untimely death of Tonya Whirlwind Soldier, a Sicangu Lakota woman who lost her battle with cancer yesterday.

Tonya was a long-time cross-country coach from Todd County High School. She was one of the organizers of LNI and worked tirelessly every year to help host a memorable event for student participants. Her death on December 8 left a great void in the lives of her children, grandchildren, parents, siblings, extended family, friends, co-workers and the students whose lives she touched.

Tonya was loved by everyone she encountered. It didn’t matter what was happening in her life, she always had a smile, a happy-to-see-you greeting, along with a bear hug for her cherished family and friends. Even after she became seriously ill, it didn’t stop her from treating everyone she knew with kindness and love.

Tonya was a lifetime athlete. Many of us will remember her as she ran her daily miles on local reservation roadways, waving at us when we honked our car horn at her as we passed. As sick as she was, Tonya didn’t let her illness overcome her as she remained as active as her ailing body would allow.

Tonya’s sons and grandchildren were the joy of her life. She cherished them and was proud of their accomplishments. She held her parents, Homer and Rosalie Whirlwind Soldier, in high regard. She set an example for all of us in the way she treated her Tiwahe. We offer our prayers for Tonya’s Tiospaye.

Lakota Country Times and the LNI Board of Directors offers our condolences to all who loved Tonya Whirlwind Soldier.

Vi Waln is Sicangu Lakota and has been a journalist since 2001. She can be reached through email editor@lakotacountrytimes.com.



We Embrace Tribal Heritage Every Day

November 22, 2018

Vi Waln

Oglala Lakota Horse Riders arrive at the Oceti Sakowin Camp near Cannonball, North Dakota in 2016. Photo by Vi Waln.

Native American Heritage Month is designed by Presidential Proclamation in November. Native American Heritage Day is observed on the day after Thanksgiving. Yet, this month is really no different for the Native American people living on Turtle Island as many in Indian Country actively embrace their tribal heritage every day.

As winter approaches, it’s also the time of year when our historical or intergenerational trauma is triggered. We will remember many traumatic events over the coming weeks.

Many of our ancestors died violent deaths at the hands of the US military forces. So even with Native American Heritage Day being observed this week, it’s the time of year many will remember the bloodiest anniversaries in our history.

Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer attacked Chief Black Kettle’s band of Cheyenne near the Washita River in Oklahoma on November 27, 1868. Black Kettle had been promised safety by the nearby Commander of Fort Cobb. The massacre resulted in the death of the Chief and 103 of his people, many of which were women and children.

Another event is the November 29, 1864 massacre of Cheyenne and Arapaho people at Sand Creek in Colorado. Most of the people killed were women and children. Soldiers also mutilated many bodies and paraded through nearby towns displaying the bloody genitals of women.

Back then, mutilated body parts were called redskins, since they were freshly stained with the victims’ blood. There were flyers promising cash payments to people who turned in fresh redskins. Today, the world knows redskins as a football team’s mascot. Many don’t comprehend why we are offended.

December is a traumatic month for the Lakota/ Dakota/Nakota people. Chief Sitting Bull was murdered on December 15, 1890 on the present-day Standing Rock reservation by Lakota police officers. In addition, President Lincoln gave the order that resulted in the mass execution of 38 Dakota men in Mankato, Minnesota on December 26, 1862.

And the most infamous massacre was at Wounded Knee on December 29, 1890, when the 7th Cavalry murdered Chief Big Foot’s band and left their bodies to freeze after a blizzard hit the area. The murdered Lakota were buried in a mass grave that is now visited by hundreds of tourists every summer.

Even though the government recognizes modern-day tribes by designating November as Native American Heritage Month, that honor means nothing to many of our own who experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in our genes. Consequently, there is an upswing of substance abuse during the last 2 months of the year. Many of us believe that increased drinking and drugging is due to the PTSD carried in our collective memory.

We can overcome the effects of historical or intergenerational trauma. It takes an effort by the individual to recognize trauma and begin the hard work to release it. Letting go of trauma isn’t easy and it can be very painful. Still, it’s the only way we will heal.

Our ceremonies continue to help in the healing process we face. However, there are some in denial about the effect historical or intergenerational trauma has on our family. If you look at today’s society, there are young people and children suffering horribly on our reservations. The majority of this suffering is likely caused by the trauma we carry in our collective memory.

We all have the strength to overcome the obstacles in front of us to begin walking the path to healing. Lakota prayer and ceremony have healed many of us. When you make a conscious effort to work on healing the historical trauma you carry, it will have a positive effect on your children and grandchildren. We can all pray for healing for our people in our daily prayer.



Fake News

August 16, 2018

Vi Waln

In 2018, some of the most damaging attacks are coming from government officials. Criticizing the news media — for underplaying or overplaying stories, for getting something wrong — is entirely right. News reporters and editors are human, and make mistakes. Correcting them is core to our job. But insisting that truths you don’t like are “fake news” is dangerous to the lifeblood of democracy. And calling journalists the “enemy of the people” is dangerous, period. ~Editorial Board of The New York Times, August 15, 2018.


Journalists are some of the most despised people on Earth. If you’ve kept up with world news, you know that many journalists are murdered while on assignment in other countries. Still, professional journalists continue to risk their very lives in order to bring news reports to the world.

Freedom of speech is guaranteed to citizens under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. Specifically, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

In addition, Article X, Section 1 of Constitution of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe outlines the Bill of Rights for Rosebud tribal citizens: The government of the Tribe including the community shall not … (b). Abridge the freedom of speech, press, expression, conscience, association, or the right of the people to peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government. 

Journalists writing for both American and Tribal news outlets are guaranteed freedom of speech and expression. Yet, politicians at all levels of government would rather not answer questions asked by reporters.

Elected officials are put in office by the voting public. The public looks to journalists to be informed, not only about the political world, but about the myriad of other issues which concern us. Tax payers deserve to know how their dollars are being allocated by the politicians controlling the purse strings. Journalists are more than happy to publish information about how your tax dollars are spent.

Today, President Donald Trump’s credibility is basically nonexistent because of his ongoing, unfounded accusations against the newspapers and television networks who work hard to keep us informed of his every move. Journalists are doing their job in keeping the general public informed. After all, we all have a right to know what is happening with our government.


Still, it’s been quite obvious that the POTUS doesn’t want anyone to know what is going on in his administration. He has consistently accused journalists of being enemies of the people. He accuses many outlets of publishing fake news. He tweets daily posts on his personal Twitter account to distract us from his haphazard attempt to run this country.


Fake News


Journalists are a tough bunch. We understand that being accused of writing fake news comes with the profession. There is no better way to cast doubt on what is published by news outlets than to accuse them of writing something that isn’t true.

Perhaps POTUS believes that publicly accusing news outlets of publishing fake news, it would somehow get reporters to stop asking questions or stop writing news articles. But the President’s accusations encourage journalists to scrutinize his actions even more. Unfounded accusations results in reporters making even more effort to check all the facts before articles are published.

You know the story or editorial hits a nerve when you hear POTUS condemning the press on almost a daily basis. The goal of journalism is to report on issues that someone doesn’t want other people to know about. It’s a dirty tactic to accuse news outlets in this country of publishing untruths.

As long as our Constitutional laws guarantee our freedom of speech, journalists will continue to write the stories that someone doesn’t want you to read.




Exercise your Right to Vote

Vi Waln

July 22, 2018

July 26 is the date set for the Rosebud Sioux Tribe’s Primary Election. Voters will narrow down the list of candidates in preparation for the August 23 Primary Election. If you are registered to vote with the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, I encourage you to go to the polls to vote for the candidate of your choice.

There are many people who will tell you that you have a responsibility to vote in all elections. I am a voter whom visits the polls in all elections. It doesn’t matter if they are tribal, state or federal elections as I vote in all of them. Call me colonized or assimilated or whatever, I just want to be a part of who gets to be in control of our government or schools or community.

Several of my people asked me to run for office but I declined. I remember talking to a friend some time ago and I asked him why he didn’t run for tribal council. He told me he couldn’t take care of all the people and so he didn’t believe he should run for office because someone would inevitably get left out. I never forgot his words.

Today, people elected to office are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. This is inevitably due to the fact that we live in one of the top poorest counties in America. Unemployed people need financial help.

One former tribal council member told me how she bought give away items for a memorial a family was sponsoring. We all know we have a whole year to get ready for a memorial; yet poverty is a huge factor as it takes a lot of money to get ready for the remembrance ceremony.

Also, people regularly engage in lateral violence here on the reservation. When you turn down a potential voter who asks for financial help, there’s always the risk of that voter badmouthing you to everyone they encounter.

This also happens when a governing body votes on something which affects the entire tribe. Someone will always have a negative word to shout out about you. Politicians can’t win no matter what they do.

People who are elected to tribal council are badmouthed by many people of all ages. This is because we elect them for three years and we expect them to solve all the Tribe’s problems. There is no way to solve issues in such a short time. Still, it’s all their fault when things do or don’t happen. It’s not fair to badmouth the elected officials or program directors when a request is turned down. Changing anything generally takes several years; tribal council representatives only get three years.

Yet, there are many issues we see that can be changed. For example, tribal council members tend to bully one another. They also bully tribal employees and people in general. There’s no honor in being a loud mouth bully.

There’s also a lot of micromanaging happening within our tribal government. Tribal council members also believe they’re more entitled to services our programs offer. There’s a ton of unfairness happening in our tribal programs.

Travel is another issue we’ve heard a lot about. Some tribal council members travel extensively. Travel takes a lot of money. But, for the amount of travel money the tribe has paid to elected officials, tribal citizens haven’t seen much meaningful change come from it. Many people on the Rosebud would like to see how their money is spent; a detailed travel report printed online, or in a newspaper, would definitely have us questioning if all those trips were for the benefit of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe.

Please elect new officials on July 26.

2018 RST Election I



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The Cycle of Trauma on Children

July 8, 2018

Vi Waln


While officials in Thailand have brought together emergency personnel from all over the world to conduct a delicate rescue operation to save a dozen teenagers trapped underground, the United States continues to detain children of Indigenous people in cages. America is an expert when it comes to inflicting trauma on entire generations.

There are many Indigenous people who identify with children being forcibly taken from their homes or parents. For instance, Lakota people have been experiencing the removal of their children by state and federal agencies for decades. Our ancestors experienced the forced removal of their children to the government boarding school system. Thus, many of us can empathize with the parents who enter the United States only to have their children pulled from their arms and placed in recently established American concentration camps.

According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, concentration camps are defined as an “internment center for political prisoners and members of national or minority groups who are confined for reasons of state security, exploitation, or punishment, usually by executive decree or military order. Persons are placed in such camps often on the basis of identification with a particular ethnic or political group rather than as individuals and without benefit either of indictment or fair trial. Concentration camps are to be distinguished from prisons interning persons lawfully convicted of civil crimes and from prisoner-of-war camps in which captured military personnel are held under the laws of war. They are also to be distinguished from refugee camps or detention and relocation centers for the temporary accommodation of large numbers of displaced persons.”

Unfortunately, the world is witnessing another wave of human rights violations being committed by the American president and his staff. For example, there are many online news reports detailing the bureaucratic obstacles which must be overcome in order to return hundreds of small children safely to their parents. One report I read told about how uncomfortable an Arizona Judge was when a one-year old baby, accompanied by a court-appointed attorney, made their first appearance in his courtroom.

ThinkProgress.org reported on July 6, 2018 that “During a conference call with reporters and U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw on Friday afternoon, government officials acknowledged that as many as 20 percent of the youngest children ripped from their parents on Donald Trump’s orders won’t be reunified with their families any time soon.”

The children in America’s concentration camps have been traumatized beyond our comprehension. Their trauma will eventually become historical. Their descendants will suffer devasting effects from this experience. Their historical trauma will likely mirror what other Indigenous people suffer. They will be told to just get over it. Healing will take many generations.

Lower Cut Meat School Group
Lakota children from the Rosebud Reservation at the Lower Cut Meat Day School. A police presence is common when children are forcibly removed from parents. Photo Courtesy of the Denver Museum of Nature & Science Catalog Number BR61-282.

We must realize the people whom are fleeing situations in Mexico or Central America are going through the exact experience our ancestors did. Many of the people seeking to cross the border are Indigenous people. They also likely identify with a nation of people who’ve always lived in a specific area.

We must remember that Turtle Island is one land base, running from Alaska clear down to the Panama Canal. The Indigenous people of Turtle Island have lived here since time immemorial. Before the encroachment we traveled all of Turtle Island, trading with other Indigenous nations in many areas

There are countless Lakota and other Indigenous peoples now praying in summer ceremonies. Generations of strong prayers are allowing several tribes to reinter on their homelands the remains of Indigenous children long buried in a Carlisle cemetery. We have to continue making ceremony and strong prayers for all the children of the world to be reunited with their families. The cycle of trauma we’ve all become accustomed to has to stop with us.



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World Elder Abuse Awareness Day


Vi Waln

As Lakota people, we’ve always shown reverence to our elders. Any person who is older than you are is considered your elder. Lakota people at least 55 years old are likely tribal citizens carrying an abundance of our ancestral cultural knowledge. The majority of fluent Lakota speakers are people in this age bracket.

It’s an election year again on the Rosebud. We are already seeing signs posted across the reservation advertising candidate’s names. Many of our candidates for public office campaign on improving conditions for the youth and elders. Yet, there are still young Lakota people taking their own lives. Lakota elders are still suffering in deplorable conditions. No one cares.


Sicangu Lakota Elders participate in the Annual Elder Games held on the Rosebud Indian Reservation. Photo from the 2017 Games.


Today, we have parents and grandparents sacrificing a great deal to raise their families. Working a full-time job on the reservation is a huge sacrifice, as a majority of our employed people spend 40 hours a week or more at a thankless job. They sacrifice to work at their full-time jobs to financially support their families. There’s also many employed Lakota people financially supporting more than one household. For example, they could be paying the electricity bill for unemployed relatives who can’t find jobs.

Consequently, there are adults who’ve never developed a work ethic. These are our people whom would rather scheme their way through life. They are the ones standing in line at various programs demanding a hand out. The lack of a strong work ethic goes back to generations of public assistance. Depending on public assistance to pay our way through life is showing our children that it’s acceptable to have tribal/state/federal programs subsidize rent, electricity, food, clothing or other necessities.

Of course, we do have a lot of families living in poverty. Yet, there are also unfilled jobs advertised on the Tribe’s website. TECRO is another program where people can apply to work, especially with all the construction projects happening now. Still, it’s a hard fact that many Lakota people cannot pass a drug or background screen.

Some adults won’t qualify for employment due to their drug use. Reservations also have a high drop-out rate. We hear many excuses as to why people can’t complete school. High school diplomas are required for many jobs. With Sinte Gleska University offering GED and college classes, daily roundtrip rides to attend college and student meals, there’s no excuse to work on becoming an employable tribal citizen.

Unfortunately, there are elders living on small amounts of income also supporting adult children and grandchildren. Some of those elders were evicted from their homes last year due to the drug use of adult family members living in the house. Other elders are abused for the fixed income they receive every month. A lot of our older men and women are intimidated by their adult children into handing over their meager resources. The money is then wasted on buying alcoholic drinks, meth, prescription pills or gambled away.

There are also Lakota grandparents raising small children. It’s heartbreaking to see the many Lakota babies who’ve been abandoned by their parents. We all know of grandmas or grandpas whom are financially responsible for grandchildren or even great-grandchildren. When these small children reach their teenage years, many of them put undue stress on our old folks.

Our elders deserve to enjoy their remaining years. Of course, many of them could outright refuse to support their small grandchildren, but it’s also the Lakota way to make sure your family has enough to live. I cringe to think about how our society will be when my grandchildren are the Unci and Lala.

June 15 is World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. We must do more to support our Lakota Elders on the Rosebud Reservation.


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National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day

May 9, 2018

Vi Waln

Children mental health awareness day

Lots of small Lakota children are being traumatized as you read this. Parents, guardians, grandparents or other caregivers are inflicting trauma on our children every minute of every day. Trauma isn’t just physical abuse. Mental, emotional and spiritual trauma is also child abuse.

There are lots of small children acting out the effects of trauma. For example, there are many children on our reservations that learn how to be a bully in their homes. People responsible for the care of children may often believe they only have to feed, clothe and provide shelter for the small children in their care. They haven’t a clue about how their personal behavior is traumatizing the children in their home.

For instance, there are a lot of Lakota people right now whom are heavily addicted to using large amounts of drugs or alcohol. Substance abuse regularly happens in front of the children in the home. There are also many children who witness extreme levels of violence in their homes. Yelling, physical assaults and adult dysfunction are just a handful of behaviors our children and teens are exposed to every single day. Consequently, these are behaviors which inflict trauma on our youth.

People who have to regularly cuss are also inflicting trauma. There are articles out there right now that encourage the use of cuss words by adults. When people cuss all the time or are unable to carry on a normal conversation without interjecting the F word between every other spoken word, it creates negativity in the home.

Also, when every other word out of your mouth is f***, you can be certain the children and teens in your care will follow the example you’re setting. This is very obvious in the number of small children who call adults “bitch” or other disrespectful names. It’s not funny when I hear a 4-year-old child say f*** you to an adult.

Right this very minute, there are small children home alone. They were not sent to school today. Many don’t have clean clothes. Others don’t have any food in the house because the SNAP card was sold for drugs or alcohol. These are traumatized children who will grow into adults and likely suffer a myriad of issues in their lives.

May 10 2018

The trauma children suffer stays with them. It isn’t forgotten when they reach adulthood. They will likely inflict the same kind of trauma on their own children, perpetuating the vicious cycle we all witness on a regular basis. Our children deserve a healthy childhood in a home with caring, sober adults. Our children deserve to eat a good meal, have clean clothes to wear, as well as look forward to a safe home after school and on weekends. Parents are obligated to help their children grow into healthy adults.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) “are stressful or traumatic events, including abuse and neglect. They may also include household dysfunction such as witnessing domestic violence or growing up with family members who have substance use disorders. ACEs are strongly related to the development and prevalence of a wide range of health problems throughout a person’s lifespan, including those associated with substance misuse.

ACEs include, but are not limited to: physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, physical neglect, emotional neglect, intimate partner violence, mother treated violently, substance misuse within household, household mental illness, parental separation or divorce and an incarcerated household member.”

May 10 is National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day. We often claim our children are sacred but most of us don’t walk the talk. It’s up to you to raise healthy children. Do your part to break the vicious cycle.



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Todd County School District Needs New Leadership


February 27, 2018


Vi Waln

Students currently attending He Dog school in rural Parmelee, SD have been studying for over a year in an unsafe building. Parents were made aware of this issue only by reading an article recently published in the Argus Leader. Since the release of that skewed news report, parents worked hard to have their students moved from the unsafe building.

Several parents and grandparents attended the Todd County School District Board of Education meeting on February 12. They were allowed to voice their concerns, but didn’t receive definite answers to their many questions. Some parents chose to keep their student(s) out of school until the issue of an unsafe building was resolved. Other parents were accused of being “poisonous” by a school board member.

One public response from a school board member attempted to deflect responsibility away from the school district by stating it was the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ (BIA) responsibility to maintain the building since they own it. In reality, it was the administration’s decision to put students back into the unsafe building, as they’ve leased it from the BIA for decades.

Consequently, the BIA issued a report with an “inspection created” date of 11/01/2016 and a “finalized date” of 05/22/2017 outlining a number of safety issues on the He Dog campus. The report addressed He Dog’s bus garage, main building and pump house. An excerpt from the 7-page report states “Main School Building. Two level building. Has fire alarm system. No sprinkler system. Due to age and condition, recommend the building be condemned and demolished.”

Administrators should have allowed the students at He Dog to remain in the modular classrooms they occupied outside of the main building. For example, my Takoja was in 3rd grade last year at He Dog school. When the school year started in August 2016, his classroom was located in a modular building on the south side of He Dog’s campus.

One day my Takoja came home and said his class had been moved into a room in the basement of the main building. It seemed odd to me but I generally don’t give a second thought to the decisions made by the administrators. I figure they are highly educated and paid decent salaries to ensure our children are in an environment where they can learn without their family worrying about their safety. I was wrong.

There were days when my Takoja came home and said his classroom was flooding. Other days he didn’t have school at all because of the flooding in the basement. It really didn’t make sense to me for the students to be in the main building if administrators had to cancel school due to safety issues caused by regular flooding in basement classrooms.

At the February 12 meeting, I was frustrated that the school board attempted to place blame on the BIA for an unsafe building. In reality, they already knew the BIA’s recommendation about the building based on the 2016 inspection report. The report is posted at He Dog school for the public to see. Many of us believe the students should have never been put back into the main building. But again, that’s an administrator decision.

As I sat there listening to the board go back and forth with the parents who were seeking answers, it occurred to me that the students were moved into the main building after the current superintendent was hired. Thus, the students were moved with her approval.

I asked the board to please hold someone accountable. I believe the superintendent is the person with final decision-making authority. So, I also asked the school board to remove the superintendent immediately. The superintendent should be accountable to the parents and community for allowing students to be housed in an unsafe building for so long. Let’s hope none of our students suffer from any health problems caused by being in an unsafe building!

Again, parents didn’t get their questions answered at the school board meeting. The school district does submit press releases to a local newspaper. However, I believe the written account released in the newspaper containing the February 12 meeting discussion will be censored by the superintendent, who has the final say over everything at the Todd County School District. Let’s hope the official meeting minutes accurately reflect what was said!

Again, if you’d like to hear what was actually said at the February 12 school board meeting, you can view the YouTube video.

Most of the He Dog students were moved out of the main building last week. Remember, it was the school district’s choice to put students back in that building. Please remember that the BIA has no say about who is in that building, which they recommended be “condemned and demolished.” As parents and grandparents, we still want someone be to held accountable for committing a criminal act by putting elementary students in an unsafe environment.

Many parents, grandparents, staff and community members are anxious for new leadership at the Todd County School District. July 1 is the beginning of a new contract year. A lot could happen between now and then. Our students and staff will continue to suffer for 4 long months under the current leadership. I encourage you to talk to school board members and request they immediately hire a superintendent who will ensure our students are in a safe environment while they are at school.



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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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