"I have always tried to remember that where I grew up didn’t have to determine who I was, or who I was supposed to be. I felt I needed to rise above the status quo and work within mainstream society to be able to give back and help Native families in need."


From preschool until her graduation in 2000, Maisie Herman stood out as a star student at Red Cloud. After attending Oglala Lakota College, Maisie went on to graduate school, earning her Master of Social Work degree from Washington University in St. Louis. Today she serves as a social worker advocating for Native children and families in Denver’s welfare system. We caught up with Maisie to learn about her commitment to pursuing justice for Native people—and how Red Cloud helped prepare her for her journey. 


Q&A with Maisie HErman '00

Congratulations on receiving your Masters of Social Work degree!

Thank you. I always wanted to work for community and institutional change. Growing up on the Reservation, there were so many things that didn’t seem just—specifically, access to quality healthcare. I knew I needed to go back to school to pursue the career I wanted. And I am very thankful to have received the Indian Health Services’ scholarship to attend Washington University in St. Louis.

What were you working on prior to graduate school?

After graduating from Oglala Lakota College in 2006 I worked at the Early Head Start program, first as a teacher then as their ‘health advocate.’ I also sat on a committee called the Western South Dakota Native American Organizing Project: a small grassroots group working to make the food stamp program in South Dakota more accessible for Native families. We were able to change the Food Stamp application from 18 pages to 8, which was a huge success for helping families in need.

Because of this work I was hired as a community organizer with the program and soon after at the South Dakota Department of Social Services as a social worker. But I always felt I needed to return home and I moved back to Pine Ridge to live with my grandfather Kenny Morgan, who also went to school at Red Cloud many years ago and then worked there as a janitor while I was in school. Back on the reservation, I had the opportunity to work as a child development researcher for the first time through the University of Colorado’s Pine Ridge Field Office.

After the death of my grandfather in 2009, I moved to Phoenix, Arizona, where I continued child and family research with the National Institutes of Health. At their National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, I worked with mothers from the Indian Hospital in Phoenix to help fight the rise in gestational diabetes.

Those sound like amazing learning experiences! You have accomplished so much already, what’s next for you?

In the summer of 2013 I was hired by the Denver Indian Family Resource Center as a social worker. The organization works within the welfare system to advocate for children and families of Native American descent and ensure that the Indian Child Welfare Act is being implemented. I work directly with children or sometimes entire families to make sure that their culture and kinship are maintained through our support and advocacy for them. I love the work--but in the future, I hope to do some policy work with the tribe, to improve access to quality social services for our people.

What was the biggest obstacle you’ve had to overcome in your journey?

Self confidence. I have always tried to remember that where I grew up didn’t have to determine who I was, or who I was supposed to be. I felt I needed to rise above the status quo and work within mainstream society to be able to give back and help Native families in need.

How has Red Cloud played a role in this journey?

Red Cloud helped me to build a strong sense of self discipline and structure, which I believe laid the foundation for being able to get to where I am at today. I remember being in class with Jim McDermott S.J., my English teacher, who encouraged us to debate. He helped us learn to feel comfortable voicing our own opinions and to speak up about important issues, whether tribal or national. I remember thinking, “Wow this is how it is in Congress; this is how you express your opinion and learn about other’s perspectives to work out difficult issues.”

Roger White Eyes, who now teaches Lakota Language, also helped us develop those skills and confidence. He would set up a scenario where we would have to play the role of a member of the tribal government, and then examine a difficult issue and try to work out a solution. I remember feeling like we were learning about the people we would become and positions we would someday have. We were learning how to work together and coordinate our efforts. It really widened my perspective.

How is Red Cloud still a part of your life?

I love going back to Red Cloud. Whether going to a basketball game, alumni events or seeing my nephews who are now in school there, or going to The Heritage Center. It’s always nice to come home and see the younger generations who are moving up through the grades. My hope is that they graduate and continue to work toward shaping the world and social change as they would like to see it.


Related Links

Denver Indian Family Resource Center
Washington University's Social Work Program

last updated: August 26, 2013