September of this year the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota
may have a new all-girls college preparatory school. The school
will combine college level classes, traditional culture and language
in a safe, stable environment. This proven model is currently in
the planning stages.
In California, the Archer School For Girls was founded in 1995
with 30 students and has grown to almost 500 students. One of the
founders, Victoria Shorr-Perkins said she had heard so much about
people founding schools for girls overseas. "It occurred to me after
reading about Pine Ridge, maybe we could found a girls school there,"
Shorr-Perkins attended a girl's school and is a firm believer
in single sex education. "When you put girls in an all-girl environment,
they become capable of taking flight. If the girls from Pine Ridge
could find their voice, they could reformat the justice system,
they could be president, they could do anything, but they need the
education," she said.
Iron Cloud-Two Dogs, Oglala, who served on the Bureau of Indian
Affairs Advisory Board for Exceptional Children, and Deborah Bordeaux,
Oglala, long-time educator and education advocate, are bringing
this vision to Pine Ridge, Shorr- Perkins said. "It has to be education
through empowerment. Most people who go to college and do well have
been empowered since kindergarten. In many reservation schools,
children have been disempowered since kindergarten."
In the first year, the Pine Ridge Girls School is expected to
serve approximately 30 girls in the sixth and seventh grades, and
will add a grade every year through high school. The first year's
budget is projected at $500,000, and the new school board is already
in the throes of fundraising. "We are on a very aggressive timeline
because these girls need this school," Shorr-Perkins said. "We need
foundation support. The school will be tightly controlled fiscally
because we will be following an existing model."
Pine Ridge is one of the poorest
counties in the country with estimates of unemployment as high
as 80 to 90 percent, and per capita incomes as low as $5,213 per
According to Iron Cloud, the schools on the reservation struggle
simply to provide an education. "Schools don't even have the resources
for academics, much less the resources to intervene when someone
has experienced grief or loss, and then to provide a culturally
appropriate response," she said.
"I see how so much potential is lost because of the things kids
experience at a young age on the reservation," Iron Cloud said.
"That impacts their educational experience. By intervening with
good education and healing, we have more of an opportunity to help
children achieve their full potential."
Cloud added that statistics show that many girls in Pine Ridge experience
violence and sexual violence at a young age. The education system
on the reservation assumes children come to school ready to learn,
ignoring the fact that some children have experienced trauma. Iron
Cloud noted, "We will provide an environment of healing for learning.
This is an opportunity to provide a comfortable environment for
The cultural opportunities abound. The school will incorporate
inipi ceremonies and age-appropriate rites of passage. "The kinship
relationships are what held us together traditionally. We will not
just be looking at them as students, but as our relatives," Iron
Cloud said. "Regular education is detached. Of course there are
boundaries, but if we look at them as relatives we will treat them
in respectful and honorable ways, as tojan (niece) or takoja (grandchildren)."
The curriculum will include nutrition and kinship with all beings.
"The nutritional part is key, as is conservation. It is important
to teach kinship with environment, with the stars, the trees, the
water, the buffalo, the winged nation," Iron Cloud said.
The school will also incorporate community and cultural healing
activities that are already in place in Porcupine, South Dakota
through organizations such as the Medicine
Horse Society and the Knife
Chief Buffalo Nation.
culture, healing, and college preparatory education sum up the goals
of the school. "There will be some kids who need help and some kids
who need an opportunity," board member Duane Champagne said. "We
are looking for the kids to be the leaders of the future, so when
they go to college they have the skills to succeed. We need them
to get the leadership skills and bring them back to the reservation
or take them out into the world.
"The curriculum will follow common core standards, with the
basics of reading, writing, and math. They will be spending a lot
of time building the basic skills."
Building skills is critical for students on the reservation.
According to Bureau
of Indian Education statistics, the average achievement rates
for high schools in Pine Ridge are 79 percent at basic, 19.6 percent
are proficient, and 0.79 percent are advanced. These scores are
vastly lower than public school statistics in South Dakota, where
some school's advanced achievement scores are as high as 40 percent.
Champagne is on the board of similar tribal schools in California.
"In one school they are writing essays in the third grade, so they
score well and are competitive in their skills. The goal is for
every child to go to college, and starting that focus in young grades,"
"Everyone is in favor of good education, but there is frustration
because the public schools have not produced. It's only recently
that the tribes have the money to do these experimental schools.
It's really exciting and shows a clear pattern," Champagne said.
"It's the first time a school will be melding what works best
for girls and what works best for the Lakota. It's taking the girls'
school research around the next corner," Shorr-Perkins said. "And
the thing is, this school model can be tweaked for boys and inner-city,
and I look forward to it happening. The school will serve as a community
resource, and we will have a functioning greenhouse facility, theatre
arts, cross-country skiing. It will work for the whole community."
"In 50 years will anyone be speaking in Lakota," Iron Cloud
asked. "Will they be speaking in kinship terms, and how do we make
this happen? We need to sacrifice and show our commitment to this
way of life. It's not only about educational achievement, it is
about putting something in place that will benefit the people. We
have to look out for each other as people."
The Tasunke Wakan Okolakiciye (Medicine Horse Society) works to
provide Lakota cultural, language, and hands on education services
to the Lakota Oyate.
Chief Buffalo Nation
We are a grassroots organization on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation
working to restore the buffalo and Lakota culture and lifeways.