Red Cloud Lakota Teacher Nominated for Life Changer of the Year Award

posted February 27, 2015

When Philomine Lakota first saw an email in her inbox from the National Life Group she thought it was just another advertisement asking her to buy something for her classroom. It wasn’t until a colleague emailed her about her nomination that it all came into focus.

“I got this email about something called ‘LifeChanger’ and I thought it was just another sales pitch or something,” says Lakota, chair of Red Cloud Indian School’s Lakota Language Department. “But when I got a notice from Melissa explaining that she and other teachers nominated me for an award, and she sent along comments that the community was leaving on the website and on Facebook about my nomination, then it became real for me.”

Philomine has taught the Lakota language at Red Cloud for nearly a decade and has championed language revitalization efforts throughout the community, including publishing a Lakota children’s book: Shota and the Star Quilt.

As a fluent community elder, she is widely regarded as a keeper of the Lakota language and culture and has been instrumental in the creation of the nation’s first comprehensive K-12 Lakota language curriculum at Red Cloud Indian School. She has presented at regional and national conferences on education and language preservation and is seen as a role model and Uŋči (Grandmother) by her colleagues and the students she teaches.

Tȟuŋwiŋ Philomine is a role model and inspiration to more people than she could ever realize. I count myself lucky to have known her as a teacher, colleague, relative, and friend. Wophila tȟaŋka uŋkeničiyape lo. Uŋniyuonihaŋpi na uŋničinihaŋpi. Wouŋspe na woksape ota yuha mayani, na ota wačhiŋuŋniyaŋpe lo. Bliheič’iya yo. -Peter Hill, Program Director at Lakota Immersion Childcare / Iyápi Glukínipi

“Philomine is a role model for the Lakota way of life—she teaches us, guides us, and walks with us daily,” says Melissa Strickland, Project Coordinator for Red Cloud’s Lakota Language Project. “Not only has she worked tirelessly to help create and edit the school’s new curriculum, but she has also worked hard to build Lakota thought and philosophy into the curriculum.”

Strickland explains that Philomine's impact goes well beyond the language classroom. "She has not only made this a professional goal, but a personal mission—to promote the teaching of the language to families across the reservation and communities."

I can not express the value and appreciation I have for the love and care that [Philomine has] given to so many of [our] students and friends… [she has] helped guide so many of us back to knowledge and [has helped] give re-birth to language preservation, [and] also cultural teachings. - CeCe Big Crow, Community Member

“I was walking to lunch after I read Melissa’s email and the comments from community members,” says Lakota. “I realized that this was a serious thing, and I questioned myself, am I worthy?”

“All the positive comments brought a big lump to my throat. I couldn’t eat. I thought that I would feel like I changed a life when students started to communicate to each other in Lakota in full sentences. And I thought to myself: Some of my students can. They’re able to. And that will continue to be my goal.”

For Lakota, the nomination has been an award in itself. With the language so intimately tied to cultural preservation and identity, the work of language learning has become a passion for her.

“If I get it, I get it. If I don’t, I don’t,” says Lakota. “The nomination itself is acknowledgement for, I guess, all that I do and feel in my heart—trying to teach students to speak Lakota. I feel honored and humbled by it. It’s nice to know that the other teachers and the community believe in this goal too, and nominated me for this award.”

I appreciate all that [Philomine has] done for my children as they continue to further their appreciation and learning of the Lakota language. My children hold [Philomine] in high regard and with the deepest respect, as do I. Thank you, [Philomine] for being such an inspirational role model for all of us. - Jen Sierra, Red Cloud Elementary School Principal

Every year the National Life Group accepts nominations for K-12 educators who demonstrate a proven ability to improve the lives of students, positively add to the development of the school, lead important activities, maintain a record of excellence and uphold a commitment to producing a nurturing atmosphere for students.

Ten top finalists will be chosen later this spring. If Lakota is chosen as one of the top ten finalists, she will receive a cash prize for both herself and Red Cloud Indian School. To visit her profile and leave a positive or encouraging comment, visit:

Watch Philomine discuss the importance of the Lakota language: