Alumni Profile: Clementine Bordeaux

posted on June 29, 2012

This profile is part of an ongoing series about particular Red Cloud alumni, and what they have been doing since graduating.

1. Talk a little bit about your childhood: where you grew up, where you went to school, how many years you attended Red Cloud, etc.

I grew up on the Pine Ridge Reservation living in the community of Wanblee as a small child, then Batesland, and finally moving to Slim Buttes in my 8th grade year. Although kindergarten was spent at Batesland School, I asked my parents if I could go to Red Cloud after spending a year in Sunday school at Sacred Heart Church. My grandmother Eva Witt worked there, and I met a lot of other kids that were at Red Cloud. I started at Red Cloud Elementary and spent the rest of my 1st through 12th grade years at RC, graduating as co-valedictorian in 2002.

2. What have you been doing academically and professionally since graduating from Red Cloud? What have been some of the high points?

After graduating high school I received a full scholarship to Carthage College in Kenosha, Wisconsin, which is a small Lutheran liberal arts college nestled on the banks of the Lake Michigan. I majored in Theatre/Communication with a minor in Religion and was involved in many organizations, including the United Women of Color, Black Student Union, Poetry Underground, Gospel Messengers, Alpha Psi Omega Theatre Fraternity and Sigma Omega Sigma social sorority. I was also in support of my classmates starting the first collegiate chapter of the NAACP in Wisconsin. Some other highlights of going to Carthage included becoming the Vice President of my sorority my senior year and being able to provide outreach not only to women of color on campus but also to local middle school students. Through our service project called “Pride”, we mentored at-risk 7th and 8th grade girls in Kenosha. I was also on the planning committee for the first “Wisconsin Private Colleges Initiative for Diversity Conference” in 2004, and was able to share my Lakota culture with individuals from across the state.

After graduating from Carthage in 2006, I spent the summer at the Institute of American Indian Arts Summer Film and Television Workshop in Santa Fe, NM. There, I produced and directed my first original short film titled “Rez Toll.” That October, I spent a week in Los Angeles watching another original script of mine get produced by Intertribal Entertainment and made into a short film titled “He Can’t Be Caught.”

In summer of 2007, I became the Youth Ministry Coordinator for the Catholic Parishes on the Reservation. That fall, I also became He Sapa Win (Miss Black Hills), representing the He Sapa Wacipi (Black Hills Powwow) throughout the year and traveling to different powwows, conferences and events to share the Lakota and powwow culture. Being the Youth Ministry Coordinator as well as Miss Black Hills Powwow forced me to grow as a Lakota woman and ground myself not only in culture, but in the community. It helped me focus all that I had learned as a product of the Reservation to compliment the ways I succeeded as a native individual in a larger non-native world like Carthage. In working in communities like Oglala (where I was in my second year as YMC) I found myself thinking about how I could impact youth through media and representation. This led to my acceptance in 2009 to the Native Voices Indigenous Documentary Film Program at the University of Washington, Seattle.

I graduated from UW in 2011 with my Master’s in Communication and a 30-minute documentary as my culminating thesis. My film, about the Native women professors, graduate students and staff at UW, will premiere at a film screening at UW in November of this year. One of the most rewarding experiences in Seattle was working with dynamic, diverse and dedicated native people at a research 1 university, as well as becoming a part of that community and seeing myself grow as an academic and film artist.

After receiving my graduate degree I started a job as Academic Coordinator for the American Indian Studies Interdepartmental Program at the University of California, Los Angeles.

3. Please describe what are you currently doing academically or professionally.

I have been in LA since August 2011, when I started the job as AC at UCLA. I am loving every minute of my experience! Although I miss Seattle (the “mothership”) and my own community of Pine Ridge immensely, I am deeply honored and humbled to be making my mark in the American Indian community of UCLA and larger Los Angeles area.

As Academic Coordinator, my main job is to support the American Indian Studies Interdepartmental program. We have an undergraduate major, minor and a graduate M.A. program in American Indian Studies. I advise undergraduate students in the major/minor as well as graduate students in the MA program – choosing classes, filing forms, basic administrative tasks. I also network with other American Indian Staff and the American Indian Studies Association which has two project for recruitment and retention: the “American Indian Recruitment (AIR)” Project which tutoring and mentors high school Native students as well as community college students and “Retention of American Indian Now! (RAIN)” project which does programming on campus to retain all self-identifying Native students at UCLA. I also work closely with the chair of the program to develop and promote our work throughout UCLA and southern California. My office is located near the American Indian Studies Research Center, which I also support and network with.

This past year has given me new insight into higher education, relocation and new cultures of southern California tribes. Last week I took part in my first American Indian Graduation at UCLA, which I helped plan and emcee. The best part was seeing one of our own Lakota women graduate with her BA in Psychology: Gladys Dakam from Kyle, SD. She was actually a student I worked with eight summers ago through the GEAR-UP program in Rapid City, and I met up again with her at UCLA and supported her in this last year of her undergraduate career.

I have also been reaching out to the larger Native American community in Los Angeles. LA has the largest percentage of urban Natives in the United States. On June 16th, I was head woman dancer at the Red Circle Project Powwow in West Hollywood. The Red Circle project is housed under AIDS Project LA, and serves the Native American community in promoting HIV awareness and sexual health, especially in the LGBTQ community. I also attend monthly American Indian Community Council meetings, which bring together various native-based programs and centers from the LA area.

4. Describe the path you took to get from graduating from Red Cloud to where you are today. How did you develop an interest in what you are doing nowadays, and how did you make your dream a reality?

I wouldn’t be anywhere without my family or my community. I have carried with me the fact that I am a Lakota woman representing my culture, my family and my reservation. I was fortunate enough to come from a community that was rooted in more than pop culture and the “American dream”, and I have fought and thrived in the “outside” world knowing that I have something to stand for: my Lakota culture. And of course my family has been my biggest support. They let me try new things and encourage me to go outside my comfort zone and not be afraid to fail. And of course there were events in middle and high school that guided me beyond the Reservation border. I attended a math and science trip to the Goddard Space Center in 8th grade and this wouldn’t have been possible if I hadn’t had a great science teacher; Janet Stands. I traveled to Chicago on a community service trip my junior year with Courtney and Dino Pinto (Red Cloud volunteers at the time) that opened my eyes to culture diversity outside of south Dakota. I also took part in another science trip to Boston, MA with volunteer Steve Dacy. In addition, I was exposed to theatre and poetry by another volunteer; Tim McLaughlin. These experiences helped me expand my friendship base in college and beyond.

But ultimately it was my family, they were my never-ending support and still are…every step I take, I know I have them behind me, cheering me on.

5. What obstacles did you have to overcome, or what were the greatest roadblocks you encountered?

Because I had such a strong support system within my family, the biggest struggles I have had away from home were loneliness. Now as an adult I realize how important it is to be connected to land, community and family. My first year of college was hell because I felt so alone and disconnected from the place I was in. The same was true when I went to graduate school; as much as I loved being in Seattle, I missed home. And now, as I work at UCLA, there are times I have self-doubt because I am not helping my community within the Reservation and I question my being here. But I know that in the long run I am doing a great job representing the Lakota community here in LA.

6. What do you see yourself doing over the next year? The next five years? Ten years? What are your greatest hopes and aspirations for yourself?

I will (hopefully) still be working at the Academic Coordinator for American Indian Studies at UCLA in the next few years. Eventually I would like to return to school and get my PhD, possible in Indigenous Studies, Ethnic Studies, Communication, Gender Studies or Critical Film studies (or some type of combination of them all). I think it would be great to be a professor, even better if I could teach at a tribal college. I also want to continue to make documentary films. My next project, which I hope to have done within the next two years, will showcase the canonization of Kateri Tekakwitha and the experience of Native people in the process. Maybe I will become a PhD and make films for the university classroom. I hope to continue to contribute to Native people wherever I am. That is my ultimate goal; to change the future for our communities, whether it is in Seattle, Los Angeles County or Pine Ridge, SD – I want to see the Native people thrive.

7. How did your educational experience at Red Cloud prepare you for the life you live today, in terms of skills, values, attitudes, etc.

The most important education experience I received at Red Cloud was my exposure, on a regular basis, to Lakota spirituality. I think that is one extraordinary factor in my development as a students, I was grounded in my studies because I knew I had access (through school) to cultural identity. I have met urban Natives that do not yet feel comfortable having native spirituality in everyday life, but for me it is second nature. I think it is important to remind folks that at Red Cloud you have the option to take classes about Lakota spirituality, Lakota history, and language, as well as to participate in cultural ceremonies.

8. How does Red Cloud continue to be a part of your life?

I of course try to keep track of the Red Cloud basketball teams at LNI (the annual Lakota Nation Invitational), and try to read as many newsletters or blog posts through the website as possible. I try to keep up with as much as I can from across the country. I have a nephew and two nieces that are at Red Cloud High School, and I live vicariously through them!

9. Please talk about anything else that you feel is important to know about you.

I think it’s great that you want to highlight alumni and I can’t wait to start reading about other classmates before and after!