US Senator Tim Johnson visits Red Cloud

posted on May 2, 2012

Red Cloud had the privilege of hosting a visiting dignitary on Tuesday, May 1, as United States Senator Tim Johnson paid a visit to the school.

The senator and his staff were escorted around campus by Red Cloud administrators including superintendent Bob Brave Heart, Sr. and president Fr. George Winzenburg, SJ. The tour focused on the newest wing of the high school (opened in the fall of 2010), and began upstairs in the Cuny Commons.

Senator Johnson spent time admiring the large artistic piece that is the focus of the commons, “The Return of White Buffalo Calf Woman” by Lakota artist Angela Babby. While doing so, he discussed the present successes and future aspirations of The Heritage Center with its director, Peter Strong.

The next stop of the tour was Red Cloud’s new science and Lakota studies wing, where the senator visited some classrooms and also a chemistry lab. Johnson was particularly enthusiastic about the latter, saying, “Not too many high schools in South Dakota have such an impressive laboratory.”

The culmination of Senator Johnson’s visit was a forum with a group of juniors and seniors from Lakota studies and science classes. The senator solicited questions from the students, and posed some back at them as well. The session began with Johnson affirming to the gathered students one of his core philosophies: “One thing that I’ve always believed in strongly is education, from early Head Start through graduate programs, and I appreciate your doing so well.”

Several students asked engaging questions of the senator, including how he first got interested in public service. Johnson stressed that students did not need a particular background to become a politician or public servant, saying, “The world needs everything; every talent.” When Johnson asked the students how many of them took part in summer academic enrichment programs such as Upward Bound and GEAR UP, most of them raised their hands. When he then asked if they thought Upward Bound (which is funded through the US Department of Education) was worthwhile, he received a unanimous chorus of yeses.

The seniors in attendance were also asked how many of them already knew what they were going to do next year, and nearly all of the raised their hands. Director of Advancement Tashina Banks imparted that in the year 2000, only 18% of Red Cloud students matriculated to college immediately after graduation. Now that figure is 85%.

Winzenburg could not have been happier about how the visit went, or more grateful to Johnson and his staff for taking the time out to visit the school. He said, “As Senator Johnson visited with students who asked him how he got where he is today, I couldn’t help but admire his perseverance, determination, and also his longstanding partnership with Lakota people. Clearly, his whole life is about public service.”

For his part, Johnson expressed similarly positive feelings about his time at Red Cloud: "I was impressed with the excellent work being done by President Winzenburg, Principal Mattern and the entire Red Cloud Indian School staff to provide students on the Pine Ridge Reservation with the tools they need to succeed. I enjoyed seeing all the progress being made on the recent renovations and thought the students asked really engaging, impressive questions about the issues being debated in Washington.”

Red Cloud Indian Schools wishes Senator Tim Johnson well, and thanks his administration for the work he has done on behalf of the people of Pine Ridge.

A photo gallery of the senator's visit can be found HERE.