Delphine Red Shirt ’75


Porcupine, South Dakota

Current Location

Palo Alto, California


Delphine Red Shirt has taken the educational and life experiences she had as a child on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation and molded them into outstanding career as an author and expert on Native American history, culture and languages. Currently residing on the campus of Stanford University in California as a lecturer, Delphine is also working on her doctoral degree in Native American Studies from the University of Arizona.

The journey from Red Cloud Indian School to her career has been a rewarding one, filled with a number of milestones that have formed her into the person she is today. Graduating from Red Cloud a semester earlier than her classmates, she spent the spring semester working at Our Lady of Lourdes Elementary in Porcupine. She went on to be the first Native American accepted to Regis University in Colorado, served in the United States Marine Corps and completed a master’s program in liberal studies from Wesleyan University. She has served as an advisor for Native American students at Yale University, and chaired the United Nations Non-governmental Organization Committee on the International Decade of World’s Indigenous People for two years.

In 1999, Delphine published her first book, Bead on an Anthill: A Lakota Childhood, and in 2002 published Turtle Woman’s Granddaughter, which is soon to be translated in Mandarin. Throughout her lifetime, Delphine has been known for her outstanding writing and acute perspective, publishing numerous editorials in Indian Country Today and The Hartford Currant.

Asked and Answered

What do you remember most about your days at Red Cloud Indian School?

I came to Red Cloud one year after my brother Larry Red Shirt graduated—I only mention him because he graduated one of the top two in his class and had an outstanding record in football and basketball. I remember feeling as if I was letting down a lot of people before I came to Red Cloud because I knew I could do better than I was doing at the time.

At Red Cloud, I discovered my love of poetry. Mr. Erhs’ drama class inspired a love for writing even more, and also interested me in English. Classes with Sister Monica and Mike Staltincamp further solidified my passion for the written and spoken word. The classes and relationships formed with the teachers and Jesuits of Red Cloud really helped me to adjust to high school and uncover what I was good at as an individual.

You didn’t attend your high school graduation. Why not?

At that point in my life, I was really interested in the bigger world. I had already been done with high school for a semester, and by then I knew what I wanted in life. Although I loved going to Red Cloud, I recognized it was a stepping-stone toward something greater. My teachers supported my desire to go to college, and to this day I am very grateful to them for the support they gave me in that endeavor.

Why did you choose to attend Regis University and what were your plans to major in when you got there?

Regis was close to home. It was far enough that I could really focus on my studies yet it was only a six-hour drive home if I ever needed to come back to the reservation for something. When I first went to Regis, my plan was to become a doctor. I declared my major as biology and chemistry but after taking a few classes, I decided that the medical profession wasn’t for me, so I enlisted in the Marines, took a few years off from college, and refocused. When I returned, I graduated with a degree in accounting.

You eventually completed your bachelor’s degree. What did you do after college graduation?

After graduation, I went from job to job. I worked for IBM for seven years; I was an auditor, an accounting supervisor, worked in the pediatric department at Yale University and held a few other accounting-type jobs. Truthfully, though, I was struggling with finding “the right fit.” I’ve learned that if your heart isn’t in the work, you’ll never truly be happy. I’ve also learned that a woman who owns herself is stronger. I try to live our traditions everyday. Now, I teach that: To really be happy, you have to center yourself. For me, that meant going to graduate school, at Wesleyan University, to study more and grow.

What is it like being an advisor for Native American students?

It’s great. I really enjoy the work because I feel like I am giving back to the community. The hope is always that the students return to their homeland and give back. And if I can help keep them in school so that they can earn that education and contribute to the greater good, than I’m going to do what I can to support that. Today, we need more adult mentors—more inspirational leaders that say, “You can do it.” I’ve learned that if you have good adult mentors around than good things will happen. There aren’t enough mentors on the Pine Ridge Reservation or elsewhere. But if we can get as many Native youth through college and surround them with good examples of perseverance, than they can return home to help future generations.

What do you enjoy about writing and is there anything special that you are currently working on?

Right now I’m working on a book for young teenage girls. You see, I homeschooled my youngest daughter, and found that the need is there for quality reading materials about growing up before students hit high school. If they struggle with personal issues in fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth grades, how can we expect them to excel in high school? I’m using Lakota lessons in this book. I am a writer by nature. Right now, this novel is giving me a break from my dissertation. I am writing both the book and the dissertation at the same time—it’s a nice change of pace from the doctoral program.

What advice would you give to current high school students?

Build off your raw talents, interests and natural abilities. Also, be yourself. Find your strengths and work to enhance those strengths. It’s important to go out into the world and learn more, but do so always acknowledging who you are at your core. Where you are from will always shape the person that you evolve into. Once you get into college, seek a mentor. There is always someone who is willing to help—so find that person and start asking questions. The more you ask, the more people are willing to help and the more likely you are to have an easy transition into college.


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