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"A Sacred Place for Learning" - Words from Red Cloud's Vice President of Advancement Tashina Banks Rama 

October 29, 2019


 

Tashina Banks Rama (Oglala Lakȟóta) has made her home―both personally and professionally―at Red Cloud. Grounded in her strong commitment to education, she began her career in New Mexico, working in positions at St. John's College, the University of New Mexico, and the Native American Prep School. She was ultimately appointed by Governor Bill Richardson to serve as the state’s Director of Financial Aid, overseeing the distribution of $80 million to post-secondary institutions. And after ten years of helping to direct Red Cloud’s development efforts, she has just taken on the role of Vice President of Advancement. In this essay, she shares how Red Cloud has shaped her own life experience, and why she is so dedicated to shaping the institution’s future.

 

Tashina Banks Rama


“Háŋ mitákuyepi. Tashina Wanbli Win emáčiyapi kštó. Oglala emátaŋhaŋ, na leháŋl Pine Ridge él wathí ye. Čhaŋté waštéya napé čhiyúzapi kštó.

My name is Tashina Wanbli Win, Eagle Shawl Woman, a name that was given to me by a respected elder in the community. I am the daughter of Dennis Banks, Leech Lake Band of the Ojibwe and Darlene Nichols, Oglala Sioux Tribe. I am an enrolled member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe. My husband and I have ten children, ages 3 to 24: four have graduated from Red Cloud, five are currently enrolled, and one who will come to Red Cloud in two years, when she’s finished with daycare.

We are indeed a Red Cloud family. And I want to share how Red Cloud has changed my life in ways I never imagined possible―and why I have made it my life’s work to support and lift up the lives of my young Oglala relatives.

My connection and my decade-long commitment to Red Cloud begins with my eldest daughter Sierra. When Sierra was in middle school, she had begun to have serious identity issues surrounding how different she was from her peers. I had thought that, by getting her enrolled into an elite private school in Albuquerque, NM, where we were living at the time, that I would be putting her on a path to success. I was dead wrong.

We were a working, middle-class family, and Sierra earned a full scholarship to attend this elite private school, which had an annual tuition of $15,000. But instead of feeling pride in her talents that earned her the privilege of a top notch education, she was going to school and spending her days mostly alone. She did not relate to her schoolmates. She had some superficial things in common with these students―they liked the same music, same movies, same teen idols―but her true and unique identity was in question.

Why did she look the way she looked? Why did we pray differently than her classmates? Why did we go to sweat lodges?

When she looked at the beautiful parts of her life that defined her as a Lakȟóta, she was different―and in middle school, different is not always a good thing. After three years of middle school, she was losing grasp of her identity and, more profoundly, her love of life. I could see it in her eyes. Although we tried therapy, the self-harm began. She was creating physical pain to numb the emotional pain. It was a dark time in her life, and in my own.

One evening, over the phone and through tears, my mom said three words that changed our lives: “Bring her home.” So a few months later, we packed our things and came back to Pine Ridge.

I had friends and family members who thought I was taking a very big risk. And I acknowledged that it was a risk―taking my vulnerable 14-year-old daughter, who was already struggling with depression, to a community with high rates of suicide and substance abuse. But the idea of moving home, close to Sierra’s grandmother, was the first thing that made her smile in months. That was enough hope for me.

A few months later, Sierra started her freshman year at Red Cloud. We said we would give it a year. Within a few weeks of her first day, she was a different child. She was laughing and joking with everyone around her―even with me! She had an interest in others and, once again, in her own life and her own future.

I give much of the credit to her healing to being surrounded by family at home—grandparents, cousins, aunties, uncles. But it was Red Cloud’s students, teachers, and counselors and the balanced environment they created―at once both caring and challenging―that turned Sierra around fully. And it was being surrounded by our way of life, our spiritual foundations, our rituals of prayer―those intangible strengths that Red Cloud possesses.

Our nurturing environment, our caring teachers, our strong spiritual formation department―these are what set Red Cloud apart from other schools for Lakȟóta students. They are why our students are thriving and how they continue to make the impossible possible.

So where is Sierra now, ten years later? Sierra graduated from Black Hills State College in 2018 and today, not only is she teaching kindergarten, but she’s Red Cloud’s first ever Lakȟóta dual immersion kindergarten teacher. Sierra is fulfilling Red Cloud’s dream for our students: to gain a strong education in the Ignatian tradition―strengthening mind, body and spirit―and then bringing that knowledge home to serve and support our community. She is, as we often say, completing the circle.

 

Sierra in her Kindergarten Immersion classroom

I share our story because I hope it illuminates what makes Red Cloud a sacred place for learning and for spiritual growth. As we move into the next phase of Red Cloud’s work, here are the intangible strengths that I want our students to walk away with:

     I want our students to feel empowered by their Red Cloud education, and empowered to bring about positive change. If our community is going to grow and thrive, we need a thriving local economy. If our community is going to be self-sustained, we need to build an economy that supports job growth, so that our Red Cloud graduates can come back to live and work in their home community, as teachers, health care professionals, engineers, and beyond. These are the things our community needs to break the cycle of poverty―and Red Cloud students are on the path to making that happen.

     I want for our students to have a spiritual foundation that is rooted in Lakota or Catholic practices, or both, and to believe that with Tunkasila, our Creator God by our side, we are unstoppable.

     I want our students to walk through the doors every morning and feel love, empathy, grace, hard work, righteous anger because of their learning about social justice issues in the world, personal care, and more love.

     I want our students to be curious and creative.

I want all of these things, because our community is depending on our young Lakȟóta students to be our next generation of leaders. We need our students to be leaders. They are the sacred Seventh Generation that were prophesied to bring about transformational change to our people. That change is happening at Red Cloud, one student at a time. I see it every day. I see it in Sierra and her story, and in all the other Red Cloud students and graduates I have the honor of knowing.

Please be with us, walk with us, on this journey. In the spirit of Crazy Horse, Lila Wóphila tȟáŋka—many thanks.” 

 

 

 

Photos © Red Cloud Indian School 


 

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