Canku Ota

(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


april 21, 2001 - Issue 34



Head Start Returns to Red Shirt


 by Donna Ennis

Along the slow moving Cheyenne River, in the northwestern part of the Pine Ridge Reservation lies the close-knit community of Red Shirt, often forgotten due to the remoteness of this community. What has not been forgotten in this community are the children and their needs. The need to develop and enhance social and intellectual skills. The need for a Head Start Program to assist in developing these skills. There has not been a program such as this for the children in 30 years or more, in this community. At one time Red Shirt community had many families but many moved away and the need for such a program did not seem to be essential. Leaving the tiny community with only the elementary school, which served children from Kindergarten thru eighth grade. On the average there were approximately 23 students enrolled during this time. Times have changed for the Red Shirt community.

Dylan, Wyatt and John, Jr. Playing with shaving cream

Population is changing. About 5 years ago families began moving back to this area, new families are relocating here. This year the tiny elementary school saw an enrollment of 50 students grades K thru 8 the building is bursting at its seams with the influx of new students. The people saw the need for their younger ones ages 3 to 5 to have a place of learning social skills, intellectual skills, and motivational skills. The newest addition is the Red Shirt Head Start. A “school” for the young ones.
After years of planning and many delays the Red Shirt Head Start officially opened its doors on February 28, 2001. There are 10 children enrolled in this long awaited program. Vina Holiday, a part time cook for the center, said, "Our children are so excited about going to 'school'." The bus driver picks the children up every morning; they come for breakfast, brush teeth, play, story time, naptime etc. When weather permits the children are taken outside, they have a huge play yard at the center, where they intend to plant grass and other seeds that were recently donated. They have been buying gardening tools from the dollar store for the children to use while they learn to work with the earth, nurturing the seeds into productive plants. The children were recently taken on a trip to the Cheyenne River and played on the sandbars that lie between the cottonwood trees. Ms Holiday says, "they love picking up rocks, looking at bugs and planting seeds. It has been a joy to see their smiling faces and to hear their little voices telling of the things that are important to them."
Recently, a doctor and a dentist visited the center to perform a health and dental screening. After this screening Ms Holiday says, "One of the children is convinced he had his tonsils removed at this time." One of those funny moments life gifts us with, the imaginations of a child.

On a daily basis parents come to the center to eat lunch with their little ones, after lunch, while the cooks quietly wash dishes and clean up after the noon meal, the children lie on their mats for quiet time. Some fall asleep, while others look at books. "First couple of days it was crazy, the children were overly excited about the concept of being in 'school'," says Ms Holiday. "Just last night (April 10) we cooked dinner for the kids and their families, including uncles, aunties and grandparents. After dinner some of the dad’s took the kids fishing, it was very nice."

Kids on a trip to the Cheyenne River (1/4 mile away from school)

The employees and volunteers of the Red Shirt Head Start center are not only preparing the children for the elementary level of school, they are keeping one of the most highly regarded traditions of the Lakota people alive. Reinforcing the values of the Tiyospaye (extended family). At the time First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton said, "it takes an entire village to raise a child" she must have been talking to Indians because this theory is not new to Indian people. Tiyospaye was part of Indian life long before the invasion. If a member of a clan, or band was not related by blood they were still part of the extended family due to their belonging to that particular clan or band. All accepting the responsibility for the training, rearing and teachings of a child. It is not unheard of to have aunties and grandmas from one end of town to the other, this is not a new concept, tiyospaye IS a way of life, culture, and tradition for Indian people. This Head Start center is just another way to facilitate the true meaning of Tiyospaye, to instill in these children the ways of their people.
As to who would be the most excited about this center, adults or children would be a toss up. The adults working with the young children of Red Shirt have many hopes for their new center; the children that participate in the head start program give them just cause to hope. Some of the hopes and dreams of the adults that are employed and/or volunteer at the center, with the children is to start with the planting of grass, flowers, and a small vegetable garden. They don’t have all of their equipment as of yet, but according to Ms. Holiday, "we have a talented teacher, Ms. Toni Fast Wolf, on our staff that has plenty of ideas to keep everyone busy." "Already there is a noticeable difference in our children - a positive difference," says Ms. Holiday. There are 5 employees and 3 volunteers currently at the Red Shirt Head Start center; Toni Fast Wolf is the head teacher.

Toni Toni Fast Wolf-teacher at circle time

During their years of planning and delays the struggle for funding, resources, materials, furnishings for the center was overcome, somewhat. It is my belief that some of these things have been acquired to enable them to open and begin with the basics. Many things are still needed to make this program and the children’s experience a great success. Items needed for the Red Shirt Head Start Center are:
Toys - that can be washed over and over again and do not require batteries. Books - ages 3 to 5 years (they have approximately 10 books to date)
Finger Paints - there never seems to be enough of them to go around Paper - Construction paper, any paper suitable for tiny minds to express their artistic ability.
Crayons - the fat kind to fit little hands Pencils - the fat kind to fit little hands
Fabric - to make blankets for the kids to use at naptime and to make coverings for the mats they lay on. (They would like to make large pillowcase type coverings for the mats) Scissors - Round tipped scissors

If you would like to assist the newly revived Head Start program you can ship items directly to the Center at the following address:

Red Shirt Head Start
c/o Ms. Toni Fast Wolf - Teacher
Hermosa, SD 57744

Or you can email the staff for further information: Little




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