Finding the Roots of Lakota Sacred Tree

Dave Archambault Sr.

Black Elk said that perhaps there is a root of the Sacred Tree that still lives. He said, “ If there is, then we should nourish it so that it will fill with singing birds! ” He proclaimed this in 1953 in the twilight of his life. How prophetic his words were and are. Coming from every elder’s lips on every Indian reservation in South Dakota there are expressions of worry. George Iron Shield recently said it another way, “We Sioux Nations are almost out of breath.”

What needs to be nourished? What is being lost?

For the general public and politicians, it goes beyond simply understanding that the United States of America has colorful small Indigenous Nations made up of beautiful customs and traditions that are in danger of fading into the sunset. It goes way beyond such outward appearances and observations of seeing feathers and dancing. The small and seemingly insignificant Tribes across the America’s possess a stunning treasure chest of thought and philosophy. All of what and who they are must be kept and honored so that they will contribute to the fabric of the multi-pluralistic social experiment that America so proudly touts around the world.

Astonishingly, it is Governor Dennis Daugaurd and his director of State education, Melody Schopp, who have taken a daring position to pave the way toward finding and reviving the root that Black Elk prayed for. A prayer that the root might grow and flourish into proud singing birds (children). The force driving their unprecedented action is the simple acceptance of the cold hard facts that Indian children in the routine K-12 institutions are doing anything but flowering.

On February 24, the SD House Education Committee heard testimony on Bill No. 9 with no opponents. The Bill was part of the Governor’s budget but because it requested funding to implement, it required legislative language that was sponsored by Senator Troy Heinert, a Rosebud Sioux tribal member from Mission, South Dakota. The Bill has already passed the SD Senate side by a vote of 34 to 1.

What’s at Stake ?

If the State Legislature votes in favor of the Bill in early March, the root that Black Elk prayed for will be sought out. The root actually rests inside the heart and soul or spirit of each unique Lakota child and just as when a life form is given water and appropriate care it can grow and even flourish in its own beautiful way via instructions given by the Creator.

Over the last century the Lakota roots of being have been stifled by the standardized schooling strategies and methods that are found in full operation on every South Dakota Indian reservation. The primary focus of the Bill will be to find a school, a community, and a board, that wants to depart from that which is stifling to an Indian child’s spirit.

Hopefully, the RFP process screens out ideas that want to do ordinary professional development or the adding of a nice culturally appropriate program. Instead, the State legislature will be supporting efforts by a few Indian schools to express a great willingness and a genuine desire to explore and implement alternative learning models. Such models characteristically nurture each student’s innate inner life force, which is to say that the school will strive in the development of every student’s special skills and talents. These kinds of models are successfully operating all over America and represent the alive and living revolution against the nationally rejected NCLB policy of “One Size Fits All.”

What can three possible local Indian School efforts do to make the Sacred Tree bloom again? Lots! And Lots because what Indian Country needs so desperately are examples of what else can be done in the schooling of children.

This movement to introduce something different has tremendous implications not just for Indian children in South Dakota but all children in America. This is so important to comprehend because the 2014 State data reveals about 20 percent non-Indians will not graduate, 46 percent of Indian students will not graduate. And even though the Indian schooling reality is witnessed all over America, dropouts and non-graduation is unacceptable and begs for attention from any community.

One out of five Non-Indian students in any State represents a greater number of unprepared citizens that leads to serious deficits of all sorts for States without even mentioning the havoc caused for Indian Nations. Therefore, it is only prudent to seek schooling solutions for a State’s most defenseless population (Indian Children). The logic is that if innovative achievement strides can be accomplished for them, it is safe to say that such measures would likely work for all students.

In addition, this pending State action may even have a greater influence on what the Bureau of Indian Education could do about its dreadful handling of Indian students for Tribes by advocating and funding the same kind of opportunity. Initiatives that emphasize strengthening the heart and soul of human beings versus judgements based on academic ability only.

Support for the State Bill No. 9 is support for Black Elk’s prayer.

To find out when South Dakota’s 91st Legislative Assembly will vote on Bill No. 9, contact the Office of the SRST Chairman, Dave Archambault, II or Secretary Steve Emery, Department of Tribal Relations for the State of South Dakota. It will be very important to have a large contingent of support at this session.

Dave Archambault, Sr., is best known as the Indian School Whisper, and aka, Joe Bucking Horse. He has been a voice for future generations by advocating empowerment schooling models for Indian learners of all ages. He has earned a master degree from Penn State and has headed the American Indian Higher Education Consortium, American Indian College Fund, Sitting Bull College, with experience as Tribal Councilman, School Superintendent, Principal, and currently sits on a BIE grant school and Fort Yates public school board, and is the chairman of the Board for the American Indian Business Leaders organization.

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Sammy7's picture
What difference will this make in an environment of assimilated Indian education? Will it not just dress the edges in feathers and fluff while delivering assimilated settler ideologies in a feel good environment? Could we even teach the American Indian beliefs centered in Spirit and traditional lifeways and receive funding? Is that not what the children need?