October 17, 2013 — The Red Cloud Indian School, a Jesuit institution for residents of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in western South Dakota, celebrates its 125th anniversary this year. Red Cloud serves Pine Ridge residents in its schools and parishes and sustains Lakota cultural identity through its Heritage Center, a cultural center holding a collection of more than 10,000 pieces of contemporary and historical Native and Lakota art.
The school kicks off a yearlong celebration with its first event on Oct. 18, “Honoring Our Heritage, Building Our Future.” The event will include tours of Red Cloud’s historic campus, Lakota language and arts workshops, an archery competition and a traditional Wacípi (powwow).
“We are so proud and humbled that, after 125 years, Red Cloud Indian School is stronger than ever,” said Red Cloud president Jesuit Father George Winzenburg. “Our focus on providing a holistic and rigorous education for Lakota students, engaging the community through Native art, supporting the faith and wellbeing of families at six churches and bolstering the economic landscape here on Pine Ridge is having a real and powerful impact.”
In 1887, Chief Red Cloud and the Jesuits were granted permission to build a school on the Pine Ridge Reservation after lobbying the U.S. government for over a decade. The school opened in 1888, and 100 students were enrolled by the end of the year. Chief Red Cloud believed Jesuit education would help the Lakota people, who were facing economic and cultural loss, to survive in a rapidly changing world while remaining true to their Lakota identity.
“Red Cloud represents a true convergence of Jesuit and Lakota values, in support of an education of the mind, body and spirit,” explained executive vice president Robert Brave Heart Sr. “We work to incorporate Lakota heritage, identity, and particularly Lakota language and the arts into everything we do. That has resulted in tremendous success for our students academically, culturally and spiritually.”
Today, Chief Red Cloud’s vision is alive and well on the Pine Ridge Reservation. Nearly 100 percent of Red Cloud students graduate and go on to post-secondary education or training. Recent data suggests that only 51 percent of Native American students across the country received a high school diploma in 2010. Many alumni choose to help their communities and improve conditions for Native families both on and off the reservation, serving as social workers, advocates, educators and members of the armed forces.
More students at Red Cloud have earned the prestigious Gates Millennium Scholarship than at any other school of its size in the country: 59 Red Cloud students have received the merit-based, full-ride scholarship since the establishment of the award in 2000.
As Red Cloud’s administrators prepare for the anniversary celebration, the focus is on those who have supported its mission over its many years of service.
“Over the last 125 years, many Lakota, Jesuits and Franciscan sisters have made tremendous sacrifices to make Red Cloud what it is today. And we know that our future success depends on the support of local residents and friends across the country,” said Fr. Winzenburg. “We’re looking forward to celebrating together, while we prepare for the many opportunities ahead.” [Red Cloud Indian School]