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Meet Our Counselors! Ron Kills Warrior

October 2, 2017


 

For Red Cloud graduate Ron Kills Warrior, stepping into the role of high school counselor is just the next step in his journey to support youth on the Pine Ridge Reservation. Raised by an aunt and uncle who wanted him to have the best education possible, Ron attended Our Lady of Lourdes and then Red Cloud High School. He studied criminal justice and human services at Oglala Lakota College while beginning his work with youth, first as a teacher’s aide and then as a counselor in the juvenile justice system. After finishing his bachelor’s degree at Dakota Wesleyan, he found his way back home to Our Lady of Lourdes. For almost a decade, he served as the school’s guidance counselor, providing strong support for students from kindergarten through eighth grade—all while completing two master’s degrees in strategic leadership and education.

This academic year, Ron accepted a new position at Red Cloud—and today he is helping high school students prepare for life after Red Cloud, both in college and in their future careers. Drawing on his years of experience, he is helping to prepare the next generation of Lakota leaders to create positive change in the world.

 

 

You were a counselor at Our Lady of Lourdes for nine years. What made that time so special? 

My years at OLL were some of the very best in terms of my experience in counseling. Part of my job was to teach our students life skills—and within that program, we helped students learn how to manage emotions and cope with daily life. We helped students understand issues like bullying and depression, and how to help someone who could be suicidal. And we had some really great results—we had students come forward and tell our principal they were worried about someone they knew. 

I also did a lot of academic advising, helping to monitor grades and helping our older eighth-grade students with career exploration. We worked on how to navigate a college website and explore possible career paths. For me, it was a time to grow personally but also professionally. And when I got into my master’s program, it was kind of an eye-opener— I realized how much direct experience I actually had in relationship to what I was learning. 

How did you come to this new role in the high school?

Moira Coomes, who was then our Curriculum Director, asked me what my plans were as I was finishing my master’s this May—and said that Red Cloud needed a strong counselor who could really support our high school students, especially in college and career services. The last counselor in this position left unexpectedly, and I like to go where I’m needed. Whether it’s God or the Great Spirit, something comes to say that this is where you’re needed most. 

Before I was helping our eighth graders just explore college options—and now I’m really getting into the nitty gritty with our high schoolers, helping them work through applications and think about scholarships, and talking with them about these important decisions. 

It’s been a steep learning curve, and it’s been challenging at the start. But I’ve reached out to colleagues and mentors for support, and now I’m truly loving what I do. It justifies for me the hard work it took to get through school. And allows me to share my perspective with our students, as an alum of this school system, and as a Lakota person.  

What is it like now to be helping our high schools take the next steps in their educational journey? 

I always have something brewing in the back of my mind that I want to make sure comes through to our students. I have a little conference table in my office, and recently, during some small group discussions, we’ve talked a lot about making sure that students are reaching out to their parents or other relatives to share their plans for college next year. Because parents and family members need to support these students, and students will need their family’s support. 

My goal is to have life skills classes with our seniors once or twice a month, so we can talk through critical questions in preparing for college—like what do they want from a degree program, and how will they find the financial resources to support them through college. 

We’re also doing discussions on what challenges our students may face on their new campuses. For instance, if they were to face racism on campus, how could they effectively deal with that, who could they look to for support, when they are miles away from home. The reality is, they may all run into something that will make them question their decision to go to college. We want them to know how to answer those questions and find the support they need to succeed. 

And one-on-one conversations are so important too. Recently I had a senior come in and she was really frustrated and didn’t know where to begin, so I just focused on helping her organize her thoughts and prioritizing what she wants in the future.

 

 

What if a student doesn’t feel they are prepared for college yet? 

There is absolutely that possibility—and we want to have that discussion and make sure no student is feeling pressured in a way that isn’t productive. That’s when we take a step back, connect with parents and family members, and think about what’s really best for that student. If they feel they need more time to think about what they want to do, we can help them consider things they can do now to prepare for college while they are taking that time—like working part-time in a field they might be interested in or taking one class at a time to get their feet wet. 

What difference do you hope you can make as a counselor? 

I want to help students understand the fundamental importance of education. So that they can see not only how it can improve their own lives, but how it can also improve their community. 

I also hope I’m an example of what you can achieve when you persevere through struggles. I went through many ups and downs in my journey here. I had an aunt and uncle who loved me, but I didn’t have a mom or dad to support me, emotionally or financially. I really had to do it on my own. But it helped me build the kind of resilience and strength that we all need to face challenges and find the future we want. 

What is the difference Red Cloud is making in the lives of our students? 

I think we’re helping students and young people understand what a difference education makes—and how to be prepared for the future. Things are going to look different in 5, 10, and 20 years, and we have to be ready for that. And that’s what education does—it prepares us for what comes next. 

Having a very good education that allows someone to think outside the box is so important. We have to be able to evolve and challenge ourselves to look at the world differently. The Lakota were once a very nomadic people, and over centuries we’ve had to adapt. But with education, we can determine for ourselves the kind of future we’re going to have—while retaining our identity. 

What difference did Red Cloud make in your life?

It allowed me to see new possibilities. Especially on the reservation, often students think that they won’t ever leave or amount to anything. But Red Cloud helped me see all the potential and how I could grab onto it. 

The people I’ve had in my educational experience helped me see the light at the end of the tunnel. In elementary and high school, and even in college, I had so many people who helped me see the importance of education. It’s allowed me to really see what I’m capable of doing and contributing as a Lakota person.

 

Photos © Red Cloud Indian School


 

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