Courtesy of Jesse Cuny Photography, Rapid City, S.D.
Chelsea Hunter, a senior at Little Wound School on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, has been accepted at Black Hills State University.

Determination, Persistence Pay Off for Pine Ridge Student

Tanya H. Lee

Chelsea J. Hunter’s mom is proud of her daughter—and with good reason. In bringing Hunter to ICTMN’s attention, Lori Vocu-Wisecarver wrote, “She has worked very hard and I feel she deserves recognition for all her hard work, determination, and dedication to her education.”

Hunter, Oglala Sioux Tribe, has just won a Horatio Alger Scholarship and was awarded the maximum scholarship amount, $22,000, to help pay her college expenses. The scholarship is given to high school students who have overcome adversities in their lives and maintained a GPA of 2.0 or higher.

Hunter has lived on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota her entire life. Pine Ridge is one of the poorest reservations in the country. It was the site of the Wounded Knee Massacre where an estimated 300 Sioux died one morning in 1890 at the hands of the U.S. Calvary. She attends Little Wound School, a pre-K to 12 locally-controlled school on the reservation designed to offer a Lakota culture-based education to its 900 students, most of whom are Oglala Sioux.

Eighteen years old and in her senior year, Hunter ranks second in her class. This would be a remarkable achievement for anyone, but for Hunter it meant overcoming a reading disability and exercising amazing persistence in striving for academic excellence. Today, her favorite subject is English, even though, “I’ve always struggled in English. It was always hard for me to read because I had a brain problem where I always had seizures. Growing up it was always a challenge for me to read. As I progressed throughout the years it became easier for me and now I really enjoy it.”

Hunter says her school made a huge difference in her life. “Little Wound is a really good school for me. I fit in because I’ve been there my whole life. I grew up at Little Wound.” She names a couple of teachers as having been particularly influential. “I have two teachers who were very helpful, Kiva Sam and Deveany Buffalo. They really helped me throughout my high school. I had Deveany in my freshman year throughout my junior year. She’s always been there for me to help me excel at my school.”

In addition to the Horatio Alger Scholarship, in October Hunter won an Academic All-State award. “The Academic All-State award is where you participate in an activity for all four years of your high school and you maintain a GPA of at least 3.5. You’re competing against the whole state of South Dakota. Whoever has the highest GPA and maintains that GPA for your whole four years will receive the award.”

Hunter is an accomplished barrel racer and has several first-place buckles to prove it. “I have done this [barrel racing] ever since I was a little girl. I grew up coming from a rodeo family. That’s just who I am. I love to rodeo. It’s my passion,” she says.

She is also a cheerleader, but the activity that helped her win the All-State was acting as manager of the football team for all four years of high school.

Hunter has ambitious plans for her future. “After high school I know I want to study criminology,” she says. “Growing up, criminology was what always caught my interest, and I enjoy learning new things, like watching CSI, and learning about forensics. Then I will be able to help my people by coming back to my reservation and using what knowledge I do have about crimes, and unsolved crimes, to help find the solution to the problem.”

She has been accepted at Black Hills State University in South Dakota, about 3 hours from home, and is waiting to hear from Fort Lewis College in Colorado, about 12 hours away, before she makes a decision.

Living so far away from the reservation is going to be a “tough transition because I’ll be leaving the reservation and going off to a different place where there aren’t many of your people around you; you’re in the minority. I love my people and I know when I go out it’s going to be hard.” Hunter explains.

What Hunter most wants people to understand about her is, “I really strive for good grades and I really want to go off and get an education to come back and help my Indian people.”

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Michael Madrid's picture
Michael Madrid
Submitted by Michael Madrid on
My hat (if I wore one) is off to Ms. Hunter! I'm ALWAYS happy when a Native kid does well scholastically!