ALUM | Tamera Miyasato, 1997

Education Consultant

Can you imagine traveling to Italy to star in an independent film while simultaneously working as a legal secretary? How about working in the production office of an Oscar-winning feature film followed by developing a unique classroom management strategy for high schoolers? Tamera Miyasato ‘97 can–because these are just a few of the unexpected turns her life’s path has taken. After developing a breadth of knowledge through a variety of educational and professional experiences, Tamera is now focused on supporting effective education in South Dakota schools and reconnecting high school students with their Lakota values.

Thank you for speaking with us today, Tamera! I understand that you grew up in the eastern part of South Dakota. Can you tell us how your family made its way west to become part of the Red Cloud community?

I was born in Yankton, SD, which is in the eastern part of the state, near the Missouri River. My mother and father were both pursuing their doctorates in education in Vermillion, SD at the time. My mother’s career path took her to Pine Ridge, and she developed a passion for the area. Our family is originally from Flandreau, SD so we are enrolled in the Flandreau Santee Sioux tribe, but when people ask me where I am from, I say Pine Ridge. It’s where I grew up, that is home. My parents chose Red Cloud High School for me and my sister because of the high quality education and the spiritual foundation. My mother was raised as a Christian, and so it was important to her that we had exposure to the Catholic faith.

Many of the teachers at Red Cloud are volunteers who have come from different parts of the country. How did this impact your experience during high school?

For me, that was part of the appeal. The volunteer teachers had such a different perspective. They brought their own experiences from where they lived, worked, and studied. I was really grateful for that because it gave us an idea of life outside the Reservation. In particular, I remember Steph Weller, a volunteer teacher who had a huge impact on me. She was partly the reason I eventually became an English teacher! Mike Kelly, Jim Dippold, Jeff Hibbert...I feel bad naming just these few because there were so many who had an impact on us.

After your graduation from Red Cloud in 1997, you attended the University of Notre Dame. Can you tell us what that experience was like for you?

It really was a big transition. Even though my mom made it a priority for us to have different experiences and travel, when I got to South Bend, IN, I didn’t realize the extent of the disparities until we drove onto campus. I saw other students with moving trucks full of stuff for their rooms, while I arrived with my family in a two-door car, my belongings in trash bags.  My sister reminded me that we laid them flat and had to sit on them on the drive from South Dakota to Indiana!

A huge challenge for me was having to miss the funerals of loved ones who passed away. In the Lakota culture, when there is a death, we come home to be with the family and to help. So, when we had people who passed away and I wasn’t able to come home, that took an emotional toll. It was a culture shock, it was homesickness, it was not being prepared. There were so many factors that made it quite a challenge.

For the first two years, I got through by making connections with other students in similar financial situations. By the end of the second year, though, my grades were not what they should have been, and I was asked to leave.

This sounds like a pivotal moment for you. How did you decide what to do next?

My mom and I had a very good talk. She was supportive, as she always is, and she understood that I was struggling. We decided that coming home wasn’t the best solution for me because it was too much of a risk for me to get comfortable and not continue school. With the support of my family, I knew I needed to do something to explore myself as a young woman.

When I was at Red Cloud High School, we did theater productions and I was involved in every single one of the plays. Acting was always a passion of mine, so I went for it! I found an acting school in Vancouver, British Columbia called Actors Working Academy (many of my former coaches now work with Vancouver Academy of the Dramatic Arts). I applied, auditioned and got in. So, literally a month after my dismissal from Notre Dame, my mom and I were on the road and moving me up to Canada.  I lived up there for about a year, and it was the best experience ever. It taught me how to be an adult because I was independent of rules and structure and I had to take care of myself.

Following your passion really led you to an important period of personal growth. Where did you go from there?

Soon after finishing acting school, I decided to join my sister Simone in Las Vegas, NV where she had been working for one of the top criminal defense attorneys in the city. I lived there for five years working as a legal secretary. My boss was very understanding and gave me time off to pursue some acting jobs in Las Vegas and in Italy. I actually starred in a few independent films in Italy, including The Way of Beauty, and The Voice of the Unknown.

During that time, I was also working hard to pay my tuition debt to Notre Dame, which was a requirement for my return. I kept in contact with my admissions counselor Bob Mundy. He was an amazing source of support. He periodically reached out to me, checked in on how I was doing, and always asked if I was ready to come back. The last time he reached out and asked if I was ready, I was able to say that I was. I reapplied, and went back in the spring of 2006 and switched my major concentration from Theater to Film. I graduated from Notre Dame in 2008. It was one of the happiest moments of my life.

Once you had earned your degree in film, how did you become involved in the industry?

After graduating, I moved back to Rapid City, SD and immediately started working for a local production company. They were partnered with Chris Eyre, a very prominent American Indian film director, who directed the film Smoke Signals. When I met him, he was looking for an assistant and he hired me. He was directing and producing episodes on PBS’s American Experience: We Shall Remain. When we were shooting Trail of Tears in Atlanta, I met my husband, who was also working on that film. We maintained a long distance relationship for a time, until I moved to Atlanta, Georgia, where he was. We lived there for a year, and during that time I worked on The Blind Side with Sandra Bullock, and an MTV movie. I worked in the production office, first as a production assistant, and then I was promoted to production coordinator for the next project.

What is the day-to-day like in the production office of a film?

The production office is the backbone of any film production and it is really our responsibility to keep the operation moving. We could be doing anything from arranging travel for actors, executive producers, and crew, to making sure all the script changes were in order. It’s not as glamorous as one might think. The shortest day one can expect is 12 hours. The longest day I put in was 19 hours! It is exciting to be around these creative types and celebrities, though! 

How did you transition from life in the production office to your current work in the field of education?

My husband and I knew that production life would not be good for a family, so we decided to move to South Dakota in 2009. We had our son in 2010 and got married a few months after having him. At that time, I went back to school and did my teacher preparation program and masters program at Black Hills State University. For the past three years I’ve been teaching English, [the last] two years at Pine Ridge High School.

I just began a new position with an organization called Technology and Innovation in Education (TIE), which is based in Rapid City, South Dakota. I am working as a Learning Specialist, basically providing education consulting.

You have had such a wide variety of educational and professional experiences so far! Where do you see yourself five years from now?

I have always had the goal of being a good Dakota woman. This means that you come back home to share what you’ve learned and to work with the community that supported you. Through my work with TIE, I have a tremendous opportunity to help students, develop my own body of work, and interact with all nine tribes in the state of South Dakota and beyond.

I am planning to focus some of my work on a classroom management strategy that I developed while working at Pine Ridge High School. The strategy utilizes Lakota culture, specifically the Woope Sakowin, the Seven Laws of the Lakota. When I used this strategy, my classroom transformed into “How can you act, think, and help each other like a Lakota person?” I asked the students, “Can you follow Wacante Oganake and be generous or helpful? Can you be aware of Wowahwala and have humility in your actions and interactions?” My students began holding each other accountable for acting like good Lakota people. I hope to develop this work further, as I may want to use it as a basis of study for a Ph.D. I love that I can share this with other teachers at Reservation schools, monitor it, and collect data.

You have traveled quite a path already and it looks like you have some exciting work ahead of you. What advice can you offer to current high school students at Red Cloud?

Remain humble. Acknowledge the fears you have when you leave Red Cloud. I hope that you realize that we are all in this together: coming from the Reservation, coming from one of the poorest counties in the United States, coming from a place with one of the highest death rates in the country. I hope that you will revisit—and continue to revisit—what it means to be humble, to acknowledge the challenges that we all have. So many others, especially those living off the reservation, do not experience what we do. I want you to be aware of the opportunity that your Red Cloud education provides for you.  Be humble and grateful, and always remember who you are—Lakota. 


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Photo: Courtesy Tamera Miyasato
last updated: August 15, 2017