Nellie kept a room full of 450 Indian Educators captivated as she shared what it was like to spend her first 5 years of life in Washington, DC and then move back to the Rosebud Indian Reservation as her father’s job changed.
At the South Dakota Indian Education Summit in Chamberlain, S.D. in late September, she explained, “In Washington, DC I never felt the effects of racial prejudices, but when I moved back to South Dakota, I felt that prejudice from my Native American peers, even though I am Native American.”
According to Nellie, her lighter toned skin and her lack understanding of their challenges set her apart as an “apple” and “white,” so she was not accepted by her classmates. Her pain was apparent as she shared, but what really struck me was how Nellie was able to triumph over her difficulties through the support and mentoring of her father.
“My father taught me that pride in my identity is a good thing and instilled many virtues in me,” she said. The importance of a mentor role in the lives of young people was heard repeatedly throughout the Summit, and Nellie’s story gave a first-hand account of the impact that relationship can have on young lives.
The theme for this year’s Summit was “Supporting Culture, Building Expectations, Creating Partnerships.” Participants celebrated this theme partly by adopting the Oceti Sakowin Essential Understandings and Standards that were created earlier this summer by the state Board of Education. This work will provide the roadmap for educators all across the state to teach the culture and history of South Dakota’s Lakota, Dakota, and Nakota people to promote understanding of the culture to help students like Nellie. Teachers spoke about how these Essential Understandings will help our Native American youth to develop the pride in identity that Nellie spoke so eloquently about.
Nellie, now 20 years old, is studying Political Science at South Dakota State University, and although she is away from the Reservation while in college, her goal is to return and try to help in whatever ways she can. “My passion lies in coming back to help,” Nellie shared.
After hearing her moving story, I look forward to seeing what this amazing young woman will do during her life.
Read another post by Sharla about Indian education and the Rosebud Reservation.