Indigenous Women Rising

Celebrating Red Cloud’s New Indigenous Women Leaders

Indigenous women have always been leaders of their nations. But today, Indigenous women are finally being recognized as leaders outside their tribal communities, even in the halls of the U.S. Congress. Their voices and wisdom are critical to the wellbeing not only of their Indigenous nations but of our whole global community. Meet two of Red Cloud’s newest Lakȟóta women leaders, who are forging a path for the next generation and shaping the organization’s mission for the better.

Tashina Rama Headshot

Tashina Banks Rama
Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer

Tashina Banks Rama was raised by civil rights activist parents who made it their life’s work to fight for equity for Indigenous people. Guided by that passion, as well as a strong commitment to education, she has worked for over a decade to ensure Red Cloud is doing all it can to effectively serve the Oglala Lakȟóta community. Before coming to Red Cloud, she helped to lead a number of other educational organizations in New Mexico, including St. John's College, the University of New Mexico, and the Native American Prep School, before ultimately being 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. This fall, Tashina became the first Lakȟóta woman to hold the position of Red Cloud’s Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer.

What first brought you to Red Cloud over a decade ago?
My connection and my decade-long commitment to Red Cloud begins with my eldest daughter Sierra. When Sierra was in middle school in New Mexico, she had begun to have serious identity issues surrounding how different she was from her peers. 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. 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.” She and my step-father shared that Red Cloud was doing amazing things with bringing Lakȟóta culture, spirituality, and language back into the classroom, and into the lives of our youth. Because that recommendation came through a trusted and loved relative, we made the decision to pack our things and came back to Pine Ridge.

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. Today with a college degree and in pursuit of her Master’s degree, the Lakȟóta language is at the center of her world; she is on a journey to becoming fluent while teaching the language to our youngest students here at Red Cloud as one of our Lakȟóta Immersion teachers in the elementary school.

What makes this place so special to you, as both a parent and a longtime staff member?
To be honest, if you’d asked me 11 years ago if I would send my daughter to a Jesuit school, I probably would have said no. But one of the things I love about Red Cloud is that we have spirituality as a foundation, but that it’s open and welcoming, whether you’re of the Catholic faith, or if you practice Lakȟóta spirituality, or a combination of both, or if you’re still discovering your own spiritual path.

My parents raised us with Lakȟóta spiritual practices; I don’t call it a religion, but in this context, I consider it my faith. But my family, and my dad [Dennis Banks, Leech Lake Band of the Ojibwe] especially, had many friends of other faiths, who I was surrounded by as a child. My dad’s best friend for 40 years was a Buddhist nun, and I remember waking at 4:30 in the morning, at just 7 years old, to pray and chant for hours with her.

Having been exposed so early on to different forms of prayer, I learned it was very normal for people to pray differently from me. I found ways to connect to those who prayed in church: while they might burn incense, we burn sage, and while they sing hymns, we sing prayers songs. It became for me not about the institutional church, but about the relationships with the people I knew who practiced that faith.

That’s what happened when I came to Red Cloud. As I started developing relationships, I began to care deeply for all the people here. Regardless of our spiritual background, we were all here for the same spiritual purpose: to help make kids as whole as they could be. In some ways it was the most unexpected thing that I would fall in love with this organization, but I really fell in love with the people.

What are you most excited about, as you take on this new role?
I love being able to manage multiple tasks at the same time, and to get into the weeds of how an organization works. But I also love being in a team environment, and to lift up the people around me. Red Cloud cultivates kindness and a positive, family-like environment, and because of that, we attract employees who care deeply about each other, about our students, our artists, our parishioners, and our whole community. And when you are surrounded by people who genuinely care about each other and the work they do, who continue to ask how we can keep making things better and better, it’s so motivating. Everyone in this organization is trying their butts off to do the best they can do, so we continue to lift up our community.

Beyond just helping our organization run better and more efficiently, that’s what I most want to do in this role: to enable the people around me to do the very best they can in their roles, and to support them in achieving their hopes. It really wasn’t my goal to be the Executive Vice President of Red Cloud, but I think I’m here because I’ve strived to be patient, loyal, trusting of others, and to try to always put myself in the shoes of others. Leading with empathy has really empowered me to be recognized as someone who can get the job done while bringing their team along with them, and working to support them in every way possible.

How does it feel to be the first Lakȟóta woman leader in this role?
One of the most exciting parts for me is that I never thought, in my lifetime, that a Jesuit institution like Red Cloud would select a woman to be its Executive Vice President, just given how leadership has been mostly male across Catholic organizations. I do think women lead differently than men, in some really important ways. I’ve worked alongside women in our Advancement office who have been here for decades, and they are my biggest source of inspiration, in terms of how to lead with empathy. I don’t think they even see themselves as leaders, but being around them has helped me become who I am today, and will continue to inform my work as an indigenous female leader at Red Cloud.

What I hope is that, seeing me in this role, that my daughters and all the young women in our community will know that you can be a strong leader, whatever your path and your goals are. I don’t look like a typical leader. I’m a petite Lakȟóta woman who likes to push boundaries, to ask tough questions, but always seeks to give and receive respect from those around her. I hope the young women can see that, if you’re true to who you are and respect those around you, you can go anywhere.

And for me, having Lakȟótas in leadership roles is crucial. A Lakȟóta led organization would mirror the community it serves. A western approach is more of a top-down style of leadership, as our organization evolves into one that looks and feels more like the community it serves, my hope is that it is one that inspires our leaders of tomorrow to help us to continue to strive for education excellence. Standing on the shoulders of those who came before us, I dream for our community to continue to invest into curriculum, pastoral care, and cultural preservation with our Lakȟóta values at heart — humility, compassion, generosity, fortitude, forgiveness, courage and respect.

Monica Macek Headshot

Monica Macek '89
Vice President of Facilities

Monica Macek, the valedictorian of Red Cloud’s Class of 1989, has a planner’s mind and engineering in her blood. Hailing from a family of engineers and scientists, she brings more than 20 years of experience serving as a facilities engineer, guiding operations maintenance, construction, and safety procedures for complex organizations. After earning her degree from Notre Dame, she spent 19 years working with the Indian Health Service (IHS) here on the Pine Ridge Reservation managing resources for the hospital, five clinics, and 123 housing units. More recently, Monica served North Dakota's General Services Administration, with responsibility for all aspects of professional architectural and engineering duties pertaining to the project planning, design, construction and repair of the agency buildings. As Red Cloud’s first Vice President for Facilities, she’s ready to take charge of the planning, care, and maintenance of our physical property and buildings.

There’s a dearth of women in the math, science, and engineering fields. What led you to pursue your career path?
My dad’s side of the family are all engineers and scientists, so it was a part of my life from the very beginning. One uncle is a nuclear theorist, another is a nuclear engineer, another is a mechanical engineer, my dad’s sister is a radiology technologist, and my dad’s a machinist.

I spent my first eight years of childhood outside Aberdeen, as the youngest of four daughters. My parents divorced when I was 8 and we moved back to Evergreen, near Porcupine, where my mom is from. I enjoyed grade school at Rockyford, where I ran cross country and track, and always participated in the science fair!

During that time, we would still spend summers with my dad, and being a household of me and my three sisters, there was no such thing as women’s or men’s chores: we did everything. My dad taught us that, if it’s broken, take it apart and find out what is wrong. That’s an engineering mentality, to tear something apart and figure out what’s stopping it from working. So we all learned to fix things.

What was life like as a student at Red Cloud?
It was such a blast. Our class really helped each other and stuck together. We didn’t have cars or phones, so we’d join together and share our resources. And we had a lot of new teachers throughout those four years. As you might expect, I was drawn to math and science. We had some computer classes, and we had a pretty good math program. By senior year we were doing trigonometry and I took as many advanced classes as I could.

When It came to college, I applied to several different schools and was accepted at all of them. I did an interview with Georgetown University, as another Jesuit school, but they didn’t have a separate college of engineering. I wasn’t exactly sure what I wanted to do, but I knew that engineering would fit me, so I applied to Notre Dame, was accepted, and went off to Indiana in the fall after graduation.

What was it like to transition from high school on the reservation to college life?
People talk about culture shock. I don’t know about culture, but it was definitely a huge shift in what I was used to. I went from small classes to taking calculus class in an auditorium filled with 350 people, with a professor up on a stage writing on a projector slide. That first week of classes, my calculus professor told us he was planning to skip the first seven chapters of our textbook, since he assumed most of us would have covered that in high school. Looking back, it was a bit bold of me, but I decided to just sit down and read those chapters and stick in the class. That first year was certainly challenging, and I had to retake some classes to catch up. But it was also a blast meeting so many new people, and exploring a whole new environment.

There weren’t a lot of girls in electrical engineering. During my sophomore year, in the core electrical engineering classes, I think there was just one other girl besides me. I took the following year off to have my son, and when I went back not much had changed. Of the 32 people in my electrical engineering class, only 3 were women. I also had to take additional classes because they had changed the curriculum while I was gone. But I graduated in January of 1995 and headed home.

How did you break into the engineering field professionally?
During my senior year at Notre Dame, they help you get interviews, so that you’re familiar with the process of getting into the work world, and I did interviews with Boeing, 3M in Minnesota, and with ACDelco in Indiana. I wanted to be closer to home so I went to Omaha, where my sister was in the Air Force. My first job was as a computer programmer for an insurance company. I did that for about a year, it was a little monotonous. I did end up enlisting in the Marine Corps Officer Candidates School, but after an injury during the eighth week of a ten week program, and not wanting to be so far from my son, I decided to return home to the reservation.

While preparing to move home, I received a call from my cousin’s husband who worked for Oglala Sioux Rural Water Supply System Operations and Maintenance. He was looking for a staff engineer to work in maintenance to bridge the gap between design/construction and maintenance. I accepted the position, not knowing much about water systems, but willing to learn. I worked with the engineers who were designing pipelines, pump houses, and intake stations, but on a day-to-day basis, I assisted maintenance with troubleshooting pump house systems and controls. The water operators taught me a lot about water systems and I helped interpret manuals and regulations. I dabbled in IT, water metering, and did a few small projects.

During my time there, I learned that IHS was looking for a facilities manager, which required an engineering degree, and decided to apply. I was the only applicant, the only Native applicant, and the only female Native applicant! Though I didn’t have a lot of experience in facilities management at that time, I trained for a week and then jumped into work, sink-or-swim style. Those first days were really challenging, because they hadn’t had a facilities manager in over a year, and the budget was down to nothing, so there weren’t resources to replace breaking equipment. But after a few years, I got the hang of it, and my team realized I wasn’t going anywhere. I started to fill some key positions, and things started to function well. It was crazy busy all the time, but I truly liked working at IHS, and I stayed for 19 years.

How did you find your way back to Red Cloud, and what are your hopes for this new role?
I was working for the IHS when I was asked to join the Board of Directors, and to share my facilities expertise. I was asked by a few people if I would consider a position with Red Cloud but I was focused on my federal career. I was still on the Board of Directors while I transferred to the General Services Administration (GSA) in North Dakota. Being away from home made me realize that I enjoyed my job more when it was for the benefit of my reservation, my community, my family and friends.

What I’m most excited about is developing a master plan, because it helps guide all your other decisions about how you manage the facilities. It assists with prioritizing critical projects, and builds a timeline. For example, if it’s part of your master plan to replace a building in two years, you’re not going to pour a lot of resources into it, but just try to keep it functional until it can actually be replaced. We need to document the projects that we’re doing on our facilities so that we can track our progress towards the master plan and understand how our work contributes to our broader goals. Part of that is keeping drawings of our buildings and grounds accurate, so that when we go to begin a bigger project, everything is ready and documented.

My next goal is to implement processes for maintaining, repairing, replacing, and improving equipment, buildings, and grounds to required standards. It starts with organizing information so that it’s accessible and usable. We need to document and implement the preventive maintenance of the existing and new equipment being installed to ensure it operates reliably for its anticipated useful life. I am working to develop a plan and budget for repairing or replacing aging equipment before it fails. There is also a huge opportunity for energy savings when we replace equipment or systems. Basically it’s organizing things to stay on track, care for our facilities, and do the work and planning to avoid emergencies. Without processes, controls, and planning things get chaotic, and as an engineer, I hate chaos!

I think Red Cloud has been making some really important changes, taking a more professional and strategic approach to it’s work, and the people who are here all want to work together to make things better. So I’m really excited, and think this is a great time to step into this role.


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