In this season of charitable giving, I'd like to mention once again the people and kids at Red Cloud Indian School on the Pine Ridge in South Dakota.
The school is named for Red Cloud (Lakota name: Makhpiyaluta or Mahpiua-Luta, literally "Crimson Cloud"), a leader of the Oglala Lakota (Sioux) tribe who was, more than any other Oglala chief, associated with the painful transition of his people from resistance fighters to subjugated population.
2009 is the 100th anniversary of Red Cloud's death.
The Red Cloud School boys' basketball team, seen here winning the Region 8A championship, were invited to scrimmage at halftime at a Denver Nuggets preseason game on Oct. 3, 2009. (Photographer unidentified)
Red Cloud School is a Catholic (Jesuit) elementary and secondary school for Lakota children and young people. It is located in Shannon County, South Dakota, which is one of the three poorest of the 3,140 counties in the United States. (Another of the three is right next to it.) Pine Ridge Agency is the 8th largest Native American reservation in the United States, larger than the States of Rhode Island and Delaware combined. The sprawling community is beset by severe poverty-related health, unemployment, and substance-abuse problems.
Sophomores Justice Kills Straight, left, and Simone Shot With Arrow hang out in the Cuny Commons area of the newly renovated portion of Red Cloud Indian School after the building's dedication ceremony on Friday morning. Oct. 16, 2009. (Photo by Kristina Barker, Rapid City Journal)
Red Cloud School serves 600 young people, 99% of whom are Lakota. It is staffed primarily by Lakota and strives to preserve and teach Lakota heritage as well as prepare students for college. It offers a Montessori School for preschool children and maintains a heritage museum. The college placement rate is 90%, which is good by any standards, but amazing for a school in such at at-risk community. The kids work hard and strive to make the most of their education.
I first began donating to Red Cloud School at the recommendation of photographer Aaron Huey, whose scarifying pictures of life on the Pine Ridge we linked to in October. Unfortunately, the school's website is down at the moment, but, if you wish to, you can give a gift here.
Featured Comment by Joseph Vavak: "One of the great injustices going on in this country involves a tiny village just across the South Dakota state line called Whiteclay, Nebraska, and the people of the Pine Ridge. Whiteclay has a population of 14 yet has four stores that sell about four million cans of beer annually. While alcohol is outlawed on the reservation, its authorities cannot control what goes on past the state line and the state of Nebraska has continued to fail to do anything about the situation.
"My visit to Whiteclay left me completely appalled by what I found there. It was a mid-Sunday afternoon and there were people passed out on the side of the highway, others staggering around and empty beer containers littered everywhere. I felt just sick to see something like this in my home state. The worst part is that most people, even those in Nebraska, don't know about the situation. To learn more about Whiteclay and ways to help bring about change, you can visit the website."
Featured Comment by Mike Nelson Pedde: "Great idea, Mike. Pine Ridge is like a third-world country in the middle of the richest nation on earth. The people there are wonderful, though."
Featured Comment by Mani Sitaraman: "I am shocked to learn the following from Wikipedia: '...The population on Pine Ridge has among the shortest life expectancies of any group in the Western Hemisphere: approximately 47 years for males and in the low 50s for females. The infant mortality rate is five times the United States national average...." The Pine Ridge residents have a per capita income about a tenth that of the average American. For another summary on the community, check this out."