The communities in our region have a rich and diverse history. Despite a legacy of attacks on Native Americans' land, language, and traditions, their culture remains a vibrant and powerful force in the state of South Dakota. The breathtaking physical landscape complements the beauty, warmth, and inspiration of its native peoples. Yet in the shadow of such beauty, our communities are far from thriving.
The Lakota sovereign nations on the Pine Ridge, Rosebud, Standing Rock, and Lower Brule reservations are located in some of the poorest counties in the United States. Many Lakota families struggle with issues of employment, housing, and healthcare, and the educational landscape is in stark contrast with that of the state's more affluent communities. Fewer than 10% of Native adults hold a bachelor's degree, and among students living on reservations, less than one in three reads on grade level.
Tribal officials and community and spiritual leadership have been working against these challenges along with off-reservation political leaders. Resistance against oppressive practices in our communities has been strong—from Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull to the American Indian Movement to present-day initiatives. Parents, teachers, principals, tribal councils, and the local community all want the best for Lakota children. State political leaders and the Bureau of Indian Education also want the best for Lakota children. But while so many stakeholders share a common purpose, there is still much work to be done to ensure educational success for all Lakota students on South Dakota’s reservations.
Teach For America launched in the region in 2004 with 17 corps members spread across the Rosebud and Pine Ridge reservations. In 2013, our communities welcomed 41 corps members to the Pine Ridge, Rosebud, Lower Brule, and Standing Rock reservations. Despite racial and cultural differences, our corps members and alumni have worked diligently to change educational outcomes for Lakota students. While tribal leadership and non-Native American organizations have a history of limited collaboration, growing community voices have expressed how much they value their relationships with Teach For America teachers. Shoulder-to-shoulder with the communities we serve, we're striving toward college-readiness, cultural awareness, and identity-rooted pride for all Native students living on reservations in South Dakota.
Hear more about our story by listening to Executive Director, Jim Curran on South Dakota Public Broadcasting: http://listen.sdpb.org/post/teach-america