Canku Ota

(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


June 30, 2001 - Issue 39



Brokaw Speaks to OLC Grads


by Heidi Bell Gease, Rapid City Journal Staff Writer - June 25, 2001


photo by Dick Kettlewell/Journal staff

Tom Brokaw  photo by Dick Kettlewell/Rapid City Journal staffNBC newscaster Tom Brokaw urged Oglala Lakota College graduates Sunday to follow in their ancestors' footsteps and rise to the challenges of this generation.

The greatest days of the Oglala Sioux lie ahead, he said, "and you shall lead us in that direction."

Sunday's roster of 140 graduates was the largest in OLC's 30-year history. Hundreds gathered under shelters at the powwow grounds on the Piya Wiconi campus near Kyle to watch family and friends receive their degrees. The graduates themselves sat under the hot sun, clutching bottles of cold water and shading themselves with OLC umbrellas.

Brokaw who grew up in Yankton, lived at Igloo and maintains ties with Oglala friends such as former University of South Dakota classmate Gerald One Feather knew just how to connect with the crowd.

First, he poked fun at himself, saying how, in his "white man's earnestness," he had once asked an Indian man what his people called the pine-bough shelters that surround a powwow ground.

"We Indians have a name for this," the man said. "We call it shade."

Brokaw also admitted that although he lives mainly in New York City these days, he has a place in Montana, where he has spent time with Crow Indians.

"There is a difference, however," Brokaw joked, his deep voice familiar to anyone with a television set. "When I talk to the Crow, I have to speak more slowly and use shorter words than I will here today."

Wanda Ten Fingers of Pine Ridge, who lived with Brokaw's family for a summer as a teen-ager (
see accompanying story), later said those comments show his feel for Indian culture. "I think he's Lakota at heart," she said.

But Brokaw wasn't there just to amuse. "I'm here today to salute you," he told the graduates before shifting their attention to those who came before them.

His best-selling book, "The Greatest Generation," pays tribute to the men and women who grew up during the Great Depression, fought in World War II and went on to shape the world as it is today. Many Oglala members of that generation some the grandparents of this year's OLC graduates were pictured in a photo exhibit of veterans displayed at Piya Wiconi.

As Brokaw pointed out, the people in those pictures were only two generations removed from the tragedy at Wounded Knee and the Battle of the Little Bighorn, where Custer "got what he had coming.

"That's a stunning reminder of how swiftly history will change," Brokaw said.

The Oglala's high rate of military service 762 served in World War II, OLC President Tom Shortbull said is also a reminder of Americans' common values, such as loyalty and patriotism. And to Brokaw, those common values can form bonds that make us all stronger.

"We are more than the sum of our parts," he said, whether on a basketball team, in an emergency room or among a drum group such as the Porcupine Singers.

To accomplish a common goal, Brokaw said, people sometimes need to put aside their own feelings of anger at unjust treatment or discrimination.

"If you feel discrimination today, think of what these veterans must have felt 50 years ago," he said. "Your elders knew there was a greater cause than their personal fury."

In answering the call to arms, they also answered their critics. Getting an education dispels stereotypes too, and Brokaw urged OLC graduates to make it a personal mission to see that a college education becomes expected of tribal members, not considered an exception.

"You are their legacy," he said. "You, men and women alike, are the warriors of this proud culture."

Others praised OLC itself.

"I think it's been the greatest thing that's happened here," Oglala Sioux Tribe President John Yellow Bird Steele said. "It's changed our reservation. It's changed our people."

When OLC opened, Shortbull said, there were few Indian teachers or nurses on the reservation. That has changed. Today, more than 80 percent of the Indian teachers and nurses on Pine Ridge are OLC graduates.

"Thank God for OLC," Ten Fingers said. "It made it possible for a lot of people to get their degrees."

Gerald One Feather, who was instrumental in starting OLC, was honored for the Gerald One Feather Lakota Studies Faculty Endowment Fund. Millie Horn Cloud accepted recognition for her father, the late William Horn Cloud, for the William Horn Cloud Lakota Language Faculty Endowment Fund.

The Circle of Elders also honored Shortbull with an eagle feather and staff.

Sunday's commencement was part of graduation-weekend activities. GED students were honored Friday, and on Saturday, OLC presented Oglala veterans of World War II with honorary degrees in Lakota leadership.

After Sunday's ceremony, Brokaw said he came to OLC "not only to honor the education that is being done here but also to educate myself."

Traveling the world as a newscaster has convinced Brokaw that people have common bonds. He has seen common beliefs, shared values, even similar features.

Once, while interviewing Mikhail Gorbachev, Brokaw met an ambassador from Khazakhstan who looked familiar. "I would have sworn he was an Oglala Sioux," he said.

"There is a universality about who we are."

Map - Kyle, SD

Maps by Travel


Oglala Lakota College
To establish and to operate post-secondary institutions on the reservation granting certificates and degrees. This misssion includes a diverse range of education from community service offerings.
In carrying out the mission the Oglala Lakota College Board of Trustees stresses Lakota Culture and Tribal self-determination. The College prepares students to understand the larger society as well as the customs and beliefs of the Lakota people. Working towards these ends, the College has defined as its purposes:

Woman Spent Summer with Brokaws in 1971

 by Rapid City Journal

Wanda Ten Fingers of Pine Ridge remembers the summer of '71.

It was the summer she lived with Tom and Meredith Brokaw and their three young daughters in Studio City, Calif.

It was the summer the 16-year-old got to visit Malibu, Disneyland and Hollywood.

It was also the summer Wanda Ten Fingers' world opened wide with possibilities.

"That was like my first time in a big city," she said Sunday after listening to Brokaw speak at Oglala Lakota College's 30th graduation ceremony. "Meeting him ... it just intrigued me, what a person can do."

Ten Fingers was a sophomore at St. Mary's School in Springfield when she signed up for a summer home program. The Brokaws, originally from Yankton, asked to have a girl stay with them, and Ten Fingers was selected.

"They were just wonderful," she remembered. "I was just like a regular member of the family."

At that time, Brokaw was with an NBC station in Los Angeles. He was well-known in L.A., but his wife also got noticed, Ten Fingers said.

"Anywhere we went, people thought she was Jackie Onassis," she said with a chuckle. "She resembled her, especially with her shades on."

Ten Fingers stayed in touch with the Brokaws off and on over the years as she completed two years of college and raised a daughter on her own. She watched him rise to become anchor of "NBC Nightly News" and worried when he visited countries in turmoil. "I always had prayers for him," she said.

Still, time has slipped away, and it had been a few years since the two had seen each other.

Sunday, she managed to catch Brokaw for a few minutes after commencement to swap stories and news about their families.

"He has two granddaughters now, which in Indian way would be my nieces," Ten Fingers explained. "I want to know every little thing."

Ten Fingers had news of her own to share.

After the summer she spent in California, she knew the power of opening a child's eyes to the big, wide world. She worked extra hours at her job as a medical-records analyst at the Pine Ridge hospital to put her daughter, Keely Ten Fingers, through preparatory school and to help pay her way through college.

Keely, now 24, graduated from Wellesley College with a political-science degree and just finished her first year of law school at the University of North Dakota, where she's studying Indian law.

"She wants to help ... her own people," her mother said proudly. "I couldn't wait to tell Tom."



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