by Hannah Bartlett
In contrast to the lush greenery of Mount Ka’ala and the Waianae Mountain Range on the North Shore of O’ahu, the Lakota Sioux Reservation is a vast expanse of beautiful, yet mostly unusable grassland in Black Hills, South Dakota. It is here that AP English teacher Shah Bento spent November 3rd through November 5th attending the 4th annual Native Alliance Leadership Summit. During this Teach for America sponsored event, educators from all over the country celebrated, built coalitions, and supported teacher and professional learning for the Native identity based community. It was his chance to become aware of how difficult it has been for the Sioux and how they have successfully, as Bento says, “survived despite tremendous hardships.”
To help this underprivileged community, the Native Alliance Initiative came together with Teach for America to ensure that all Native American and Hawaiian children are receiving an excellent education and prepare them to be future leaders. A major obstacle that Mr. Bento noticed on the reservation was the lack of economic opportunity. “Hawaii has a thriving economy that students have access to,” he states, “on the reservation, there are no chances for children to get jobs – the unemployment rate is roughly 80% compared to Hawaii’s 2.2%.” The Pine Ridge Reservation, with over 40,000 people (92% Sioux), has the highest poverty and unemployment rate. The Community Development Corporation (CDC) brought in people and materials to build homes, and by doing so, brought down the cost and made it affordable for the Sioux community.
Each day opened with a spiritual meditation where they were speaking the Sioux native language, Lakota, which was then translated to English. Much like the Native Hawaiians, the Sioux nation is very family oriented, and is a culture that, in the past, has really been hurt by the United States government. However, with the support within their families and community, they manage to get by. The Hawaiian cultural renaissance that happened in the early 1970s brought back the language, customs, music, crafts, and hula. The Lakota Sioux cultural renaissance started to happen in 2012.
Pride in the Lakota language and customs of the Sioux is beginning to flourish. The students are all so proud and driven by their culture that they thrive off of it even due to the lack of opportunity. In the 1800s, a Lakota holy man, Black Elk, predicted that the Sioux seventh generation would find new hope in this special native American culture. The seventh generation are the Sioux children of 2012. “It’s always the youth that have the most hope,” says Mr. Bento. And like the Native Hawaiians, this is a time for the rebirth of a nation, a revolutionary renaissance of the Lakota Sioux.