In their Words—Red Cloud Students as Spiritual Leaders

July 13, 2017



At Red Cloud, students and staff honor two rich spiritual traditions and bring them together in one spiritual life of prayer and practice. Catholic Masses bear signs of Lakota culture—including traditional drumming to open and close the liturgy, the ritual burning of sage, and Lakota language responses. Cultural dances, inipi—or sweat lodges—and other Lakota ceremonies are a regular part of life on campus. Each day, community members engage in active dialogue on both Jesuit and Lakota spirituality. And together, their shared practice defines Red Cloud’s mission and identity: an awareness of being surrounded by the holy—and a deep commitment to community, generosity, compassionate service to others. 

Each day, a select group of Red Cloud High School students—the Spiritual Leadership Team—demonstrate the meaning of that commitment to service and community. Each member of the team makes a yearlong commitment to serving as a mentor in spiritual formation, leading the in-school activities that bring these spiritual traditions to life. Throughout the academic year, they help to guide both Lakota-Catholic and traditional Lakota prayer services and ceremonies, organize community service activities like blood drives, and support and encourage their peers academically, socially, and spiritually. 

According to Garrett Gundlach, S.J., who helps to leads the Spiritual Formation Department and campus ministry services, one of the Spiritual Leadership Team’s most significant roles is to lead student retreats. Often held in the Black Hills, a sacred place for the Oglala Lakota people, retreats are held several times a year to provide students with space and time to reflect on their own lives and to create community with their classmates. Garrett has seen firsthand, again and again, how students on the Spiritual Leadership Team become trusted leaders throughout each retreat—providing a source of critical support for their peers.




“At Red Cloud, we focus on shaping our students’ minds and hearts at the same time. Our curriculum is designed to provide space for our students to reflect on what they are learning—and to draw them to take action and become ‘men and women for others.’ That happens in the classroom and through prayer and ceremonies held on campus. But retreats are a particularly important part of creating that space for reflection and spiritual growth. They allow us to meet our students where they are—to invite them to explore, on a deeper level, their own spirituality and how they relate to our creator God, to Tȟuŋkášila (a Lakota name for God, directly translated as Grandfather),” says Garrett. 

“The students on our Spiritual Leadership Team are such an important part of that experience. They are each assigned to a small group that they lead throughout the retreat— they help to facilitate some really difficult and emotional conversations, helping to guide their classmates to confront and explore sometimes painful—and often exciting—personal challenges. It’s really wonderful that we’re able to give our students that significant leadership responsibility. They truly rise to the occasion, with love and compassion.” 

Just before their graduation this May, Samaya Blacksmith and Maioha Kingi, two members Red Cloud’s class of 2017, looked back on their experience serving as part of the Spiritual Leadership Team. They reflected on what drew them to service, what they learned through supporting their peers, and how the experienced shaped their own spiritual identity.


Samaya: “I really liked how interactive the upperclassmen were with us when I was a freshman, and I wanted to be a part of that. I thought that would be through student council, but found out it was actually through the Spiritual Formation Team. The members focus on everyone, not just their own class. We helped with blood drives, and with any kind of volunteer work, and we were also there for the younger students in case they need someone to talk to—to be that support system.” 

Maioha: “We helped to plan the Masses that we have here at school, as well as the Lakota prayer services and our cultural and social dances. Basically we just invited people to come and participate and to have fun—all, in a sense, while in prayer.” 

Samaya: “I was really drawn to how open we were and how we worked hard to bring everyone together, especially during retreats. Personally I’m not Catholic, and I’m struggling with my own faith—but I was still accepted into the Spiritual Leadership Team. There are some kids who say, I don’t believe in God, or I don’t know what I believe in, and we’re still open to them. When people see the words “spiritual formation” they automatically think it’s just Catholic, but we also include Lakota beliefs too. I think it’s a group you shouldn’t judge just by its name—there’s really a lot of unity in it.” 

Maioha: “I was interested in being a part of the team because I love God…and I want other people to feel that love that I feel whenever I pray. I want to invite people to make connections through our spirituality—not in a way of forcing them, but more like having a conversation. To share with people why I like to go to church and why I like to practice my faith.” 

Samaya: “I think what’s been important to me is making sure people feel included. Seeing students at freshman retreats, sitting off by themselves, and then including them—you get to see how much they brighten up, and how easy it is for them to start talking to their other classmates. Whenever we went on our retreats, we stopped being in our little cliques, and started to play together, to work together, to have fun together—to talk and laugh about all the good times we remembered.” 

Maioha: “The most rewarding thing about being on this team was working with other youth that are passionate about spirituality. Obviously everyone doesn’t just believe in same God, or Tȟuŋkášila, the Creator—there are many beliefs here at this school. But our role was to collaborate with everyone and to experience the faith or customs that they practice.” 

Samaya: “Being a part of the team has taught me how to be open to religion. Even though I come from a strong Lakota belief [system] and have an understanding what Christianity has done to my people, my heritage and my culture, I’m still respectful of it. It has taught me how important it is to respect other people’s beliefs, even if they don’t want to understand what you believe. Just to be open and accepting.”




Red Cloud’s mission invites students and staff on an ever-evolving journey of exploration, dialogue, and reconciliation between traditional Lakota and Lakota-Catholic practices. And students who serve on the Spiritual Leadership Team actively lead the community in that exploration. 

“As members of team have both said and shown in their actions, the priority for Red Cloud campus ministry is faith in a loving Creator God and the way that faith is expressed in love of neighbor, classmate, teacher, and student,” explains Garrett. “Prayers, retreats, and cultural events help to remind students who they are and what their mission is: rooted in the love of the Creator and a rich Lakota culture, called to loving service of the world in the example of Jesus Christ.”


Photos © Red Cloud Indian School 


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