We heard today from a woman who came across St. Joseph’s Christmas cards in an unusual way. Her friends get together regularly to play cards – a women’s poker night. They don’t gamble for money, but this month everyone brought extra Christmas cards to share. She had a hot hand and her winnings included several Christmas cards from St. Joseph’s.  She liked them so much that called in to find out more about our school, and decided to become a donor.

  • Any unique stories about how you came in contact with St. Joseph’s Indian School?

Today we held our staff open house at Akta Lakota Museum. We had discounts up to 40% to encourage staff to do some Christmas shopping on campus. They are proud when they wear St. Joseph’s Indian School shirts. Folks also appreciate the intricate and traditional hand crafted items, or enjoy picking up the latest books on Plains Indian Culture.

Our Tokéya uŋkí nájiŋpi Historical Center is making great strides this week. Workers are installing the displays and hanging artifacts on the walls. Every day I make it a point to visit to see the latest progress. One of the rooms shows the transition from dormitory life, when we had 70 children sleeping in one big room, to our Family Living Units, with 10-12 children in a home setting.

Sandi, who has taught at St. Joseph’s for 35 years walked through the open house with Matt, one of our new teachers. When she saw the pictures and artifacts, it brought back so many memories, and she told Matt about some of the history and changes she’s seen. One of my hopes is that the displays tell a story, evoke memories and help us pass traditions on to future generations. We also know the history of Indian Boarding Schools has a negative side, and we hope for alumni whose experience of school include painful memories, this can be a place of healing.

National Family Week is an annual event recognized each Thanksgiving week that celebrates the family and its value to society.  The theme for National Family Week is Connections Count, recognizing that strong families are at the center of strong communities.  Children live better lives when their families are strong!

At our celebration this year, we tried things a little differently.  Instead of dividing the student families up into the homes, we had all of the students gather at the Dining Hall here on campus.  Students sat at their family table.  They made a poster, writing down all the things they were thankful for and then colored it as a family.  Students also received a Christmas ornament on which they each wrote their names.

There was much laughter and talking throughout the early evening.  After their poster was complete, they enjoyed dinner together.  They enjoyed spending time with their family.  After dinner, everyone played Bingo.

All in all, the night was a great success! The students left with gifts to take home for their families and food gift cards to use for their Thanksgiving celebration.

We have been waiting to allow our Native American students to take part in what used to be a very common, easily created ceremony.  With a burn ban in effect since the summer here in South Dakota, and without a staff person to be able to pour water for the sacred ceremony, Inipi – the Lakota rite of purification – was a rare occurrence at St. Joseph’s Indian School.

We now have a Cultural Specialist on staff to help our students, families and staff learn more about the culture of our Oceti Sakowin people.

Dave came to us in September. In the classroom, he has taught us to play the old hand games and has also worked with the boys and girls on the drum. He shares as much as he can to help staff learn too.

In addition to spending time in classrooms, Dave pours water for the Inipi ceremony. He was able to do this for our older boys (sixth grade through high school) just days after the burn ban was lifted.  It is a ceremony of prayer.  All areas of living beings are a part:  rocks, people, four legged and winged.  It is a gateway to learning more language and culture for our students.

We will take Dave’s expertise to the Lakota Nation Invitational in the hand games competition on December 21.  A group of students who have grasped the hand game songs and way of playing will travel to Rapid City, South Dakota for the day and then off for a long Christmas break.  We’ll let you know how they fair at the games!

The first significant snow of the winter blanketed our campus in white. It began with a couple of inches on Friday, another couple Saturday morning and about 5 more inches overnight. While the kids were riding bikes just a few days ago, this weekend they dug out the sleds and snowboards and saw who could make the longest slide down the hill to the football field. With strong winds and cold temperatures today’s powdery snow drifted thigh high in some places around campus. But with the morning light our crew was out in force clearing a path for students and staff, in vehicles or on foot.

The Native American girls did great dancing!

The girls did great!

We gathered in church more often than our usual weekend. Saturday morning is usually a bit of a sleep in day, but the Immaculate Conception Holy Day found a sleepier than normal group of Lakota students in the pews. St. Joseph’s regular Sunday mass is at 10:00. This morning we also added an 8:30 mass so the girls participating in the Dancing Dolls recital would enough time to get ready for their show without rushing. I rather enjoyed the more intimate, homogenous group to pray with and preach to. It’s hard to find messages that resonate well week after week with both first graders and high school seniors. Today I had a group of about 30 girls in 1st – 5th grades. In a dialogue homily style, I got them to tell me about their dance practice and preparation, and make the connection between getting ready for a big event like that and getting ready for the Lord as we enter more deeply into Advent.

Snow and ice closed the Interstate between Sioux Falls and Chamberlain and kept some of the crowd down, but the Dancing Dolls and Dudes performance was lively and fun anyway. The preschoolers are always the most heartwarming, doing simple steps and movements. The older kids have a little more razzle dazzle. And every grandparent in town vied for the front row and a good picture taking vantage.

As my own pride swelled seeing our St. Joseph students performing, I had a good idea of how grandparents might feel. The fruits of the kids dedicated practices showed. We’re grateful for the people in town who volunteer to organize the program every year, and give our students the exposure to fine arts and a fun opportunity.

Happy birthday Fr. Gary!

Happy birthday Fr. Gary!

77 year old Fr. Gary is a retired SCJ, part of our Chamberlain community. For his birthday we treated him to lunch downtown at the Anchor Grill. Santa Claus was making the rounds of local businesses and stopped by our table to pose for a mug shot and wish him the best. (He knows if we’ve been naughty or nice, but isn’t telling). Happy Birthday Fr. Gary!

We had a couple of funerals the past two days that affected many people on St. Joseph’s Indian School’s campus. Yesterday, a teenager who was a student at St. Joseph’s a couple of years ago, was laid to rest on the Crow Creek Indian reservation. She has a couple of siblings still here at St. Joseph’s and lots of cousins. We had about 15 students checked out to be with family during these sad days. Several homes made their presence felt at the wakes over the weekend. Shauntae and her family are in all our prayers.

Richard was one of our custodians until his battle with cancer made it necessary to quit work and focus full-time on treatment. He fought a long and courageous battle, but he too died this past week. His wife Mary still works at St. Joseph’s. I noticed a good crowd of co-workers that showed their support during the wake and funeral.

We get many letters each day from people who ask us to pray for them during their time of grief and loss. It’s a part of the human condition none of us escape. My prayer is that those who mourn will know the care and support of people around them to help get through the days of darkness. While it can be difficult to find words of comfort, a simple presence at wakes and funerals speaks loudly by itself.

Our high school students are starting to hear back from colleges they are applying for. Chris got an acceptance letter from Dakota State University today. He joins Elijah (U of Kansas) and LaToya (Presentation College in Aberdeen) as they plan for their post St. Joseph future. Other seniors are still waiting to hear from schools of their choice – appropriate during this Advent season of patient and hopeful waiting with expectation.

"Jingle bells, jingle bells"

“Jingle bells, jingle bells”

I walked by the music room and heard the sound of three beginning clarinet players working hard to get the sounds of Jingle Bells in time with the teacher’s lead and in harmony with one another. They are preparing to play in the Christmas recital on December 19th. In encouraged them to keep practicing, and look forward to hearing how they do in two weeks’ time.

Our Human Resources Department organized our holiday tradition called “Sweet Sampling.” Staff brought a variety of colorful, scrumptious Christmas goodies to the skate room and folks dropped by throughout the day for treats at break times.  Recipes were left by each platter for people to try on their own for the items they especially enjoyed. I can tell that our push on wellness is also making inroads. The tables were also laden with fresh fruit as an alternative, and I saw recipes for Weight Watchers Chocolate Marshmallow Fudge and 50 – Calorie Chocolate Toffee Puffs. HR also passed out cute homemade cookie cutter ornaments to get people in the holiday mood.

As I  walked up the aisle  to set up for church this morning, 3rd grader Rudy motioned to me.

“Why is everything purple?”

The prayerful season of Advent is upon us, and he noticed the change in the externals. Of course Advent is more about interior decorating – of our hearts – getting spiritually ready for the wonderful Christmas season. Our children’s choir learned two new songs, Emmanuel, familiar lyrics but in a new setting, and Candles of Advent, to emphasize the hope we hold out in the Light of the World. While in church we can burn real candles, fire regulations won’t let us get away with that in the homes. All of the homes have Advent wreaths, but with electric candles. Each home has age appropriate prayer books and resource materials  to help each child enter into the spirit of the season.

While holiday decorations are going up all around us, we ask our homes to hold off on decorating for Christmas until later in December, so our community can experience  the  Advent season of patient waiting with great expectation. This year, we made an exception for two of the homes. The Stevens and Mathias Homes where our 6th – 8th grade girls live just finished up a major remodeling this year, and were asked to participate in Chamberlain’s annual Holiday Parade of Homes. People buy a $10 ticket and are able to tour several area homes to get ideas for decorating and enjoy the Christmas spirit. Proceeds benefited our public library, so it was for a good cause. Our girls baked holiday treats and took great pride in giving visitors tours and showcasing their home. It gave people from town, who might not normally come onto St. Joseph’s Indian School’s campus or into the homes, an opportunity to see how our Lakota students live and also learn more about our approach to residential education.

The Stevens Home was named after a long time St. Joseph’s employee, Virginia Stevens, who has since passed away. We did have two special visitors – two of her daughters back for a visit, which made the day doubly special. While one of the daughters was gazing at the dedication portrait of her mother, 6th grader Jacquelyn remarked, “You look just like her!” That evoked a misty eye, a spreading smile and a big hug. We gathered around the Christmas tree for some photos.

Lots of activity over the weekend. Our high school wrestlers left Saturday at 4:30 a.m. for a tournament, and didn’t return until after midnight. In South Dakota, distances between towns and schools are great and some events have to be played 3 or even 4 hours away. The HS basketball teams had their first scrimmage of the season, and the crowd got a preview of things to come, with our St. Joseph’s students getting lots of playing time. Our own 8th grade girls hosted a four-team tournament and kept the trophy for the second year in a row. The junior high students not on the team cooked Sloppy Joes and hot dogs, along with cookies and bars to sell at the concession stand.

Our archery team was busy practicing their aim in the school gym,  vying for a spot on the team that  will compete against other schools at the Lakota Nations Invitational Tournament in a few weeks.

We enjoyed sunny and warm weather, unusual for December. Lots of kids were outside playing games and enjoying time on the playground.

The unusual December weather was enjoyed by everyone!

The unusual December weather was enjoyed by everyone!

 

Hello everyone, my name is Peggy, St. Joseph’s Indian School’s 4th grade teacher!

Second quarter is well underway!  Thanksgiving Break is now beginning and it won’t be long until we are into the Christmas season.  Maybe it is all the good weather, but the year has really seemed to fly!

hoop-dancing-SJISI have included pictures of our Native American students at St. Joseph’s Indian School’s powwow.  That was held in September, but it is a time always on their minds.  They enjoy knowing about and participating in events related to the Lakota (Sioux) culture.  On Native American Day, we did many activities to promote the culture.  In my class, we listened to storytellers on YouTube.

In Science, we have Lakota words that go with the unit we are studying.  It’s always nice to tie the two things together.  It’s fun when students come in using the Lakota words.  One time we were studying frogs, and the students came running in saying they had found a gnaska’ on the playground!

In they came with a dead frog in a sandwich bag …  I tried to display it, but the smell was too much! I was thrilled that they had used the Lakota word instead of the English word.  Right now we are studying weather.  In South Dakota, Thanksgiving brings us osni’  cold!

SJIS-powwowToday before the students left, we celebrated a Charlie Brown Thanksgiving.  We read the story, watched the video and then students were brought into a room that was set up like the actual dinner.  We had pretzels, popcorn, toast and jelly beans!  Some of the students quoted the story asking,

“What blockhead made this?”

It was a good laugh!  It was nice to see the students sitting around, relaxing and visiting with each other.

Academics continue.  We are well into multiplication.  For some it is an easy transition from addition, but for others there is a real struggle.  We continue to work and find ways for all students to feel success.  In science, we are working on weather and soon will study the planets.  Reading continues to work with fluency and comprehension.

I hope you had a blessed Thanksgiving and are anticipating celebrating Christ’s birth in the season ahead!

Peggy
4th Grade Teacher