Anthony Fresquez '61

Native education advocate, educator and administrator at Oglala Lakota College

At 15 years old, Anthony Fresquez moved from Denver to the Pine Ridge Reservation after having already dropped out of two high schools. But his adoptive family enrolled him at Red Cloud—what was then Holy Rosary Mission—and he discovered educational opportunities that helped him to thrive. Anthony later graduated from Creighton University and became an educator at Oglala Lakota College, helping Native students deepen their connection to culture and community. We spoke with him about his memories of Red Cloud and his commitment to expanding educational opportunities right here on the Pine Ridge Reservation.

Q&A with Anthony Fresquez, Class of 1961

You came to live on the Pine Ridge Reservation as a teenager—talk about how you first came to Red Cloud.

I was born in Denver but moved to Pine Ridge when I was 15 years old. By ninth grade I’d dropped out twice already and didn’t expect to go back to school. But when fall rolled around, the family that adopted me told me it was time and enrolled me at Red Cloud, what was then Holy Rosary. I’m not sure why, but in that environment, I thrived. Maybe it was the challenge, but it was totally different educationally from going to a public or urban school.

Everyone who went to Holy Rosary at that time was a boarder—you had no choice but to stay in the dormitory.  At the time, Holy Rosary was a self-sustaining operation that included a dairy and farm. I remember school started on September 1 no matter what day of the week it was. For the first two weeks everyone just picked potatoes, which we ate at lunch and dinner through the entire school year!

Back then the schedule was incredibly rigid. There’s no doubt it was a very restrictive environment. But it also afforded you a lot of opportunity academically. The Jesuits are internationally renowned for academics, and I had very good instruction in language arts, science and math.

I remember that Holy Rosary didn’t have the resources to create science labs, so I was never able to study biology or chemistry in high school. But I had wonderful instruction in physics, and started to think about studying engineering in college. It must have been the structure, and the challenge to get along with everyone and to deal with the tough academics, but I thrived and graduated four years later.  And I think the curriculum prepared me well for going off to college.

What was college like for you?

After graduating I went on to Creighton University, which had a number of scholarships for Holy Rosary students. I was the first in my family to ever go to college, and while I was able to succeed academically, it was certainly challenging socially. It’s tough to transition when you’re not from that economic and social stratosphere—many students at Creighton were children of doctors or dentists or lawyers. They grew up in an environment that was light years away from Holy Rosary or Pine Ridge.

I started in a pre-engineering program at Creighton, but it required biology and chemistry, which I had never had. So when I took those classes, each one had a lab—and when you got into the lab, all the students there had had biology and chemistry in high school. It was as if they were speaking a foreign language, and honestly they weren’t very receptive to me.

I didn’t end up pursuing engineering, but the advanced academic track I’d been in at Holy Rosary prepared me for other classes in math and the humanities, and I kept working toward my degree. I did leave Creighton several times over the course of my college career—I got married and had to work to support my family. I worked at the Campbell Soup Company on the night shift and took classes during the day. I had this commitment that I wanted to finish. It was a personal goal that, no matter what, I had to succeed. I finally graduated in 1971.

Ultimately, you became an educator back on the reservation.

I was always interested in going back to Pine Ridge, and when I graduated from Creighton I learned there was a teaching position open at the new tribal college being created on the reservation. I’ve been a part of Oglala Lakota College ever since although I left twice to work at Loneman and Little Wound Schools.

But going way back, I think I always knew I was going to be an educator, even while I was still in high school—I just didn’t follow that dream right away. At Holy Rosary, I worked with some of my fellow students to create an organization to provide teaching support for the elementary school teachers. We called it the ATA, the Assistant Teachers Association, and some of the junior and senior boys who had time in their schedules would go down and help the elementary school teachers—especially the volunteers. It was both challenging and very rewarding to work with those kids, in a boarding school environment—and I knew right away I had an interest in education.  

Talk about being an educator in a tribal college setting—why are tribal colleges so important for Native students?

When Oglala Lakota College was getting off the ground in 1971, the founders were very focused on the philosophy of integrating Lakota culture very significantly. In English the vision of the college could be loosely translated to “learning in Lakota ways”—and there were four core purposes that provided a framework for our educational model.

The first was cultural, meaning that we focused on increasing knowledge of and preserving Lakota language, history, culture and identity. The next was tribal, in that we worked to support all tribal efforts in managing programs and services on the reservation. The third was community, in that we were responsible for helping all communities across the reservation. The fourth and final was academics. They were in that order for a reason, because OLC was designed as an institution that provided education focused on strengthening cultural virtues and identity.

I believe, as many do, that valuing culture, tribe and community ultimately fosters success for Native students, in college and beyond. That’s why we require a significant number of course hours in Lakota studies, and in every class—no matter the discipline—there must be a Lakota perspective. I know Red Cloud has made strides toward incorporating culture into the classroom and adopting that philosophy, particularly through its language program. But it still has much more to do in that area—and I hope the school will continue on that path.

Looking back on a career as not only an educator, but also an advocate for Native education, what advice would you share with Red Cloud students thinking about their own future careers?

I didn’t realize it until much later, but Holy Rosary’s educational model is as good as any high school, including other Jesuit preparatory schools around the country. So don’t question your self-esteem or self-awareness based on your academic experience. Your background is just as good as anyone else’s—you just have to make the effort and commitment. Don’t let yourself be repressed, because you do have the tools to succeed.  

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last updated: August 8, 2014