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Looking to Change the World: Red Cloud Students Take Part in the Ignatian Family Teach-In


 

Teach in Group Photo

Last year, when Ashley Ecoffey ’19 heard that a group of Red Cloud students would soon attend the Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice—the largest annual Catholic social justice gathering in the United States—the news immediately captured her interest. These students would have the chance to travel to the nation’s capital, gather with thousands of others from Jesuit institutions, learn about critical social justice issues, and empower each other to become advocates for change. She applied, knowing that the trip would offer something new and exciting.

Looking back now, after returning from her second Teach-In in Washington, DC, she has realized just how much these experiences have shaped her view of the world.

“Taking part in these Teach-Ins has changed me a lot. It’s amazing to see 2000 people come together to change the world a little bit, by speaking about issues of justice and raising awareness,” said Ashley. “It’s opened up my mind more to what people have to say and to the stories of people who are suffering but go unnoticed.”

This year, as a senior, Ashley helped to lead a team of six Red Cloud students—all young women—to this year’s Teach-In. Attendees had the chance to offer presentations during the conference break-out sessions, and during the months leading up the trip, the group met to discuss what topic they wanted to research and present. They settled on a powerful one: the alarming rise of indigenous people, and particularly women, who are murdered or go missing, across the U.S. and around the world.

“It’s an issue I had already researched, for my current events class that I took as a junior,” explained Ashley. “We focused on missing and murdered indigenous women, and I read a lot of news articles and learned so much. In preparing for the Teach-In, together as a group, we discussed it and thought this was an important and world-wide problem that we wanted to bring awareness to. A lot of the time Native American women and people are forgotten—and that’s why we brought this to the Teach-In.”

 

MMIW Presentation by RC Students

 

Red Cloud’s Presentation Abstract on Murdered and Missing Indigenous People:
In British Columbia, Canada, more than 40 Native women are missing or have been murdered along “The Highway of Tears.” On the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, murders jumped 90% in 2016. Reports are often ignored and these cases are not prioritized. How can we take action on behalf of missing and murdered Indigenous People in the U.S., Canada, and the First Nations?

Ashley says the presentation went well—but that it was people’s reactions that touched her the most.

“I felt really proud after we finished our presentation, from the energy and from all the people who came up to ask us questions about what goes on on the reservation,” she said. “It was really heartwarming to know that there were people who listened and cared about what we had to say. People kept asking questions and were so surprised about the number of women that go missing around the world and on the reservation.”

And it wasn’t just the Teach-In that struck a chord for Ashley. On both trips to DC, she and her classmates also had the chance to visit the office of Senator John Thune’s office to share their stories and advocate for what they believe in.

“It was a great experience. We shared our stories and talked with Senate staff on changes that need to be made on our reservation—especially about the drug epidemic that is happening right now,” she said. “It really opened my eyes to what I want my major to be in college. I want to study political science, so that I can know about all the parts of our government and know what’s actually going on. To see all of this social injustice happening, it makes you want to change the world—and the only way you can is by doing it yourself.”

As her senior year reaches its midpoint, Ashley is staying incredibly busy with her studies and student council, while she tackles college applications at the same time. It’s a lot to manage, but she says she’s ready to move away from home, to experience all that college—and the world—has to offer.

“I love my reservation so much, and maybe at some point I will come back and work to change it. But first I need to experience what’s out there,” she said. “I believe that the only way you can get yourself out there into the world is through education—and the first step is definitely college.”

Still, all that she has learned through her experiences at the Teach-In, and through her years at Red Cloud, will come with her wherever she goes, and no matter how far she is from home.

“At Red Cloud, we’re based on Lakota values. We learn that, no matter what, we should stand up for what we believe in,” said Ashley. “Going to Red Cloud opened new doors for me in trying to change the world, even if just a little bit.”

 

 

 

Photos © Red Cloud Indian School 


 

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