HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius Visits Red Cloud

posted on August 22, 2012

Red Cloud played host to one of President Obama’s 16-member Cabinet on August 21, as Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius visited the school.

Secretary Sebelius’ visit included a tour of The Heritage Center, a forum with Red Cloud High School students, and a meeting with local tribal leadership that was held in the high school library.

Accompanying Sebelius were the following administrators from the Department of Health and Human Services: George Sheldon, the Acting Assistant Secretary of the Administration for Children and Families (ACF), Dr. Yvette Roubideaux, the Director of the Indian Health Service (IHS) nationwide, Lillian Sparks, Commissioner for the Administration of Native Americans (ANA), Marguerite Salazar, the Regional Director for HHS Region 8, and Red Cloud alumna Stacey Ecoffey ‘91, the Senior Advisor for Tribal Affairs.

The delegation visited Red Cloud to experience the impacts that ANA assistance has had on the institution. Red Cloud is currently the recipient of two different ANA grants: a three-year, $797,952 Native American Language Preservation and Maintenance grant to create a K-12 Lakota language curriculum, and a two-year, $106,769 Social and Economic Development Strategies planning grant for strengthening accessibility to Native arts on the reservation, through the work of The Heritage Center.

RCIS president Fr. George Winzenburg expressed gratitude for the group’s visit, saying, “It was our privilege to host Secretary Sebelius and other distinguished guests from the Department of Health and Human Services. I was impressed by their warmth, enthusiasm and keen interest in our students. We are grateful for their confidence in and support of our efforts to create the first K-12 Lakota language program, and the planning project to make our collection of historic and contemporary Native American art more accessible.”

For Heritage Center director Peter Strong, the visit was particularly meaningful, as the ANA funds have enabled The Heritage Center to engage in critical planning as it prepares to implement a significant and much-needed expansion of its facilities and overall scope. “This was a wonderful opportunity to show Secretary Sebelius and our other esteemed guests firsthand what their partnership with The Heritage Center and Red Cloud Indian School has meant to our organization, our community, and Lakota and other Native artists. We strive to be a positive example of the impact that the arts and culture have on improving the lives of community members, students, families, and artists,” said Strong.

One highlight of the visit was a dialogue between the delegation and four high school students. After students introduced themselves in both Lakota and English, Savannah Jensen ’14 spoke about the importance of the Lakota language to her own identity: “[The language] is important to me because…you can’t have your culture without your language. And many of the ceremonies – a lot of the cultural events that happen – involve the language. So it helps to connect you closer. It also helps you spiritually; you always know where you come from. It’s just amazing to know who you are and where you come from…in order to know where you’re going. And I wouldn’t want to ever lose it, because it helps make me who I am.”

Red Cloud’s executive vice-president Robert Brave Heart, Sr. spoke of the focus the school has on giving students a strong grounding in their culture and a sense of self-identity, recognizing that language learning is an integral part of a strong academic program overall. When he pointed out that it is a central goal of the school that 100% of the graduating class have definite post-secondary plans in place for themselves, Secretary Sebelius strongly concurred, remarking, “Every high school in America should do that.”

Secretary Sebelius is chair-emerita of the Democratic Governors Association. From 2003-2009, she was the second female Governor of Kansas. In 2011, Forbes magazine named Sebelius the 13th most powerful woman in the world, just ahead of Oprah Winfrey.

Red Cloud Indian School wishes Secretary Sebelius and our other visitors well, and thanks them for all of the work they have done for our school community, and the broader reservation community in turn.

A photo gallery of the visit can be found HERE.

This is not the first time that a sitting member of the President’s Cabinet has paid a visit to Red Cloud. Last summer, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder visited with a delegation of state attorneys general.