ALUM | Paulina Fast Wolf, 2007

Paulina Fast Wolf

Paulina Fast Wolf connected deeply with her culture as a student at Red Cloud. And today, she is not only an advocate for tribal colleges—she is the youngest center director in the history of Oglala Lakota College, here on the Pine Ridge Reservation. Today, she is helping other Lakota students find their way through the college experience, and learning how both education and Lakota values are key to creating positive change on the reservation.

Paulina, thank you for your time and joining us for an interview and update! We wanted to start with where it started: were you the first in your family to attend and graduate from Red Cloud Indian School?

My mother attended Red Cloud, my sister Rushell recently graduated, and currently, my youngest sister Kayla and my daughter attend Red Cloud.

What years did you attend Red Cloud and how was your experience?

I attended Red Cloud 9th through 12th grade. I played a lot of volleyball, I was involved in extracurricular activities such as hand games. I did a lot of volunteering in the spiritual formation department, Lakota language bowl, I just wanted to make sure my high school experience was a lot of fun. Our class was involved in a lot of cultural activities. I was also the boys’ basketball team manager for a few years.

Did you feel you had a lot of cultural support?

Yes, I definitely felt I did. It was really an awesome experience because I grew up knowing a lot about our spirituality already, and then going to Red Cloud I was able to learn even more about our culture from Roger White Eyes and Alvin Slow Bear. Learning about inipi and participating in prayer was very rewarding for me during that time in my life. We also had a lot of visits to sacred sights which was very fun. I always loved our class retreats because my classmates were great and it was always a good time. I appreciate all of them to this day.

That definitely sounds like it was a fun and memorable experience for you! You graduated as a member of the class of 2007; where did you attend college?

My initial was plan was to leave the reservation and attend Dakota Wesleyan University in Mitchell, SD. it didn’t work out but I decided to stay home and get my basics done first at Oglala Lakota college and work at the same time. At that time, I was completely done with school and I just wanted some time off, but after about a year of working and going to school part time, I felt much better about my decision. So, I decided to stay at Oglala Lakota college and it was the best decision I ever made.

What was your major?

I first started as a Bachelor of Science in Lakota Studies, I decided that’s what I wanted to do. In fall of 2010, I started working as an AmeriCorps member at Red Cloud Elementary. After two years of being in the AmeriCorps program, I decided I did not want to become a teacher anymore. I changed my major to a BS in Social Work.

So, you now have a BS in Social Work?

Yes, I proudly graduated from the Oglala Lakota College in 2014 with a Bachelor of Science in Social Work. I’m now a graduate student at Oglala Lakota College and majoring in Lakota Leadership and Management.

You are currently director of the OLC’s Oglala College Center, and the youngest center director in OLC history. How has that journey been for you?

It’s been a great journey so far! I took a leap of faith when I graduated and in the fall of 2014 I started at the Oglala College Center as a Counselor/GED Tutor. By the end of that year, I was able to move into the director position that I currently hold. That was an intense opportunity because I just graduated. I had so much support from my community, colleagues, friends and my family. I am very happy with my decision and I was named Oglala Lakota college Center Director of the year in May 2018.

How has it been helping current OLC and recruiting recent high school grads?

I believe in tribal colleges and I love OLC because of my own experience of being able to learn at home from our own educators. We learn from our own here at home and I believe it doesn’t get any better than that. Being able to talk to our students here about their experiences in high school and coming to OLC for their education is rewarding. In the end, I encourage all of them to attend college anywhere. I just want our young people to continue to be lifelong learners.

How do you feel RCIS helped prepare you for life after high school?

I think Red Cloud really helped me build a sense of family, and so anywhere I went I had friends or people I met that felt like family. Transitioning from Red Cloud to OLC was really easy, I just had that feeling of being comfortable with my own people, my own classroom and with instructors. I really enjoy it to this day.

Aside from the Master’s Program, are there any other goals you are working toward?

I just completed the ninth cohort of the Native Nations Rebuilder Program, which partners with the Bush Foundation and Native Governance Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota. I just completed the program in December. It’s a 2 year, four-session program for selected participants in the surrounding North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota tribes. This leadership program empowers participants to learn about nation building and teaches us how to lead nation building efforts in our tribal nation. Nation building is basically a model that teach us how tribal nations can be a more effective institution by using our own cultural values. This opportunity of learning about nation building has opened my eyes to seeing how we, as a nation, can develop our own Lakota government using our own culture, values, and traditions.

That’s exciting!

The program only select recipients from South Dakota, North Dakota, and Minnesota. My cohort has 20, and it has been a great experience meeting people from surrounding tribes with many of the same issues we’re facing here on our reservation. It’s really fun to learn and know that we have that support and understanding. We built a great network and now call these individuals my life-long friends.

What advice would you give current students thinking of the next steps in their lives?

I always encourage not just college life, but to do something, instead of just taking time off. Take advantage of your time and maybe start working to gain some experience. Or consider just going to school part-time, whether it’s here at home or if you’re moving to another city. Try to get out there and try something new. Because a lot of the time we don’t get the experience, students stay home, they don’t want to do anything. I just try to encourage everyone to go to school or go to work, to gain life experience.




Photos ©Paulina Fast Wolf 


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