Red Cloud Students and Alum Win
"Voices of the Land" Writing Competition

posted April 11, 2014

When Red Cloud senior Colton ‘14 was growing up he lived out in the country, away from town in the open, short-grass prairie of Pine Ridge Reservation. On one particular day, he was walking down his dirt road enjoying the natural landscape and the big sky when he noticed something out of place—something that didn’t belong. Trash.

“It was disgusting,” said Colton. “When I learned that the theme of this year’s Lakota Children’s Enrichment (LCE) poetry competition was ‘Voices of the Land,’ I knew what I wanted to write about. I knew I wanted to try to raise awareness about the health of our land and hopefully inspire people to take care of it.”

Lakota Children’s Enrichment (LCE)—a nonprofit organization that focuses on empowering Native youth and amplifying their voices—received almost 100 entries this year in its second annual Writing and Art Challenge. This year’s theme of ‘Voices of the Land’ asked students to critically think about their environment and their place in it.

“We need to keep our land clean. Let’s think about our future generations,” said Colton, who took first place in this year’s high school competition for his poem titled, Walking Home. “I don’t see any reason why we shouldn’t be able to walk up to the creek in Pine Ridge and take a drink. Today, you can’t do that.”

Addressing this year’s competition, LCE President Maggie Dunne said, “the process is not about winning – it’s about finding your voice and making a statement. At LCE we were overwhelmed by the thought and care that went into all of the entries this year. It is clear that the youth of Pine Ridge respect the land, are guardians of Grandmother Earth, and care about the protection of all of her creatures.  The future is in good hands.”

Red Cloud students Summer ‘17, Marcus ‘17, Derek ‘18, Payton ‘18, and Sadan ‘18 also placed as runner-ups in the competition and Jasmine Derby ‘18 was chosen as honorable mention in the art category.

“I didn’t do it for the award. I did it because writing poetry is a release. It’s a way to share what’s on your mind and what’s important,” said Colton. “It was an honor to win and I thank Lakota Children’s Enrichment for the opportunity to share this message.”

Red Cloud alumna Autumn White Eyes won the competition in the young adult category for her poem “Mitakuye Oyasin ” or “we are all related,” which reflects on her spiritual connection to the land and her experience leaving the Pine Ridge Reservation behind. Autumn, who is just about to graduate from Dartmouth College with a degree in Native American Studies, wrote the poem as her final assignment in a class on Native and Western views of nature.

“The poem was a reflection of everything that I learned in the class, combined with what I grew up learning about the important relationship that Oglala people have to the land,” said Autumn. “Climate change has become one of the most important issues I have studied during my time at Dartmouth and that was a huge part of the reason I wrote the poem. During my time away from home I've learned so much about the way in which we can improve the health of the Earth. I have taken classes that talk about these issues, while also remembering my Lakota views of having a relationship of reciprocity with the land.”

Colton, Autumn and all the Red Cloud students who entered the competition were honored at an awards ceremony at Red Cloud on Friday, April 11. A number of the renowned judges, including Jody Williams, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her activism against the use of landmines, and Jasmine Mans, an up-and-coming poet and spoken word artist, were on hand to congratulate students and encourage them to keep writing.

Upon speaking with the student authors, Williams shared that she was moved by their powerful stories. “The voices of Lakota youth clearly reflected their strength and dedication to protecting the land, the environment and Lakota culture,” she explained. “All Americans should be educated about the history of failed promises and broken treaties that have contributed to the obstacles facing the Lakota and other first peoples.”

The award ceremonies at Red Cloud kicked off the Lakota Children’s Enrichment’ Global Youth Service Day festivities, a three-day celebration that culminated on Saturday, April 12 with a Youth Summit at the SuAnne Big Crow Boys & Girls Club in Pine Ridge.


All Rights Reserved, ©Red Cloud Indian School, 2014
Images of Colton (top) and Summer (bottom), Courtesy of Lakota Children's Enrichment