More Than a Month: Celebrating Native American Heritage

By Robert Brave Heart Sr., executive vice president.

December 1, 2017

Hau Mitakúyapi. Mitákuyepi, Cȟanté waštéya napá čhiyúzapa pelo! (Hello Relatives, I greet all of you with a heartfelt handshake). For nearly three decades, November has been known as Native American Heritage Month. It’s a time to honor all the rich and diverse indigenous cultures that have helped to shape this country’s history. And it’s a time to celebrate the enduring strength and resilience of Native peoples in the face of many challenges, both historic and contemporary.

There is so much to celebrate over four short weeks. Today there are over 500 sovereign tribal nations in the United States, each with its own vibrant culture, language, and ceremonial traditions. The 5.2 million people in the country who identify as Native make invaluable contributions to our nation every day—as educators, scientists, doctors, artists, policymakers, and more. They also work actively to protect our country and preserve the freedom of all Americans: throughout history, Native Americans have served in the military at a higher rate than any other ethnic group.



Native Americans make these contributions despite facing significant obstacles. Today the number of Native people living in poverty is nearly double the national average. Here on the Pine Ridge Reservation, a severe lack of economic opportunity has led to exploding rates of substance abuse and depression, as well as the lowest life expectancy rates in the country.

Yet here at Red Cloud, we know those realities can and will change. By providing a high-quality education that also focuses on Lakȟóta language and culture, we are already seeing our students and graduates create a new future for the reservation—and for their people.

In the classroom and out, our students learn through the lens of Lakȟóta values, culture, and spirituality. Through our spiritual formation curriculum, they not only have the opportunity to learn the belief systems of their ancestors but also to take part in sacred ceremonies and cultural activities, like the buffalo harvest or the inipi. And because the Lakȟóta language is the very foundation of our culture, we created the nation’s first K-12 Lakȟóta language curriculum, so that all of our students, from kindergarten through high school, learn to speak Lakȟóta every day at school. They are turning our endangered language into a living one for future generations.



As our students have become more connected to their language and culture, we’ve seen them thrive—academically, socially, and emotionally. Having a deeper sense of their cultural identity—knowing who they are and where they came from—gives them the strength to succeed. And that’s why, at Red Cloud, we continue to honor Lakȟóta culture and heritage, not just in November but throughout the year.

As we leave November behind, don’t stop celebrating. Learn something more about your own culture or history—or if you’re non-Native, learn something about an indigenous culture you never knew before. (Or just follow us on Facebook and learn a new Lakȟóta word every week!) Let’s continue to honor Native peoples—the contributions they’ve made through history and those they are making today.

As long as we keep doing that, there’s nothing our students—the next generation of Lakȟóta leaders—can’t accomplish in the future. Mitákuye Óyasin!”

 Photos © Red Cloud Indian School




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