Recognizing Indigenous needs as a school community



Senior Alex Cooke volunteered with the YMCA this summer with the Tribe of the Seven Council Fires in South Dakota. Above, the camp he volunteered at: Camp Marrowbone.

8 a.m., Dupree, Tribe of the Seven Council Fires, South Dakota. Looking down the street, I can see trash lining the roads, malnourished men outside drinking beer, rusty, totaled cars and destroyed sheds and dumpsters in the street where animal carcasses are left to rot. This was my experience at the Lakota reservation in South Dakota, where I volunteered over the summer and learned the reality that reservations face in this country.

I went to Dupree this August through a summer program with a camp I’ve gone to for many years. The program sends volunteers for two and a half weeks to help provide food and run activities at the Dupree branch of the YMCA. And while I was there, I saw the severe effects of racism in this community.

Due to racial conflict, the Native-owned reservation only paved the roads Native Americans lived on, splitting the town into two and creating tensions that could escalate to violence. Native American children weren’t allowed to cross into the white side to play, and vice versa, the two groups distinguished clearly by difference in pavement.

The people of Dupree, a town of fewer than 500 people, almost all have some sign of physical abuse or drug addiction. Racial tension and prejudice from both sides are rampant, murders and suicides are common and almost all residents are either obese or malnourished. The unemployment rate is around 90 percent.

However, all of this is not specific to Dupree. The unemployment rate for Native Americans is 7.9 percent, compared to the 3.9 percent of the overall population. The poverty rate for Native Americans is 25.4 percent, higher than any other ethnicity in the country.

Despite all the challenges in their environment, my interactions with the Native American residents of Dupree were overwhelmingly filled with hope and strong tones of resilience. The children have dreams of careers, lovers and a future they can see themselves in. As fellow Americans, we all have a part in helping provide fruit to that hope, success to their resilience and reality to their dreams.

This high school prides itself on being a community which advocates for marginalized groups and changing our practices to better support the oppressed, but outside of history class and Indigenous Peoples Day, Native American activism is nearly nonexistent at the high school, despite Native Americans facing severe oppression.

We’ve seen the administration and student population dump huge amounts of time, money and effort into activism, such as with their compost initiatives, with negligible impacts. This disregards the devastating third world conditions Native Americans face, and the children who starve, are trafficked and go missing at such high rates that government algorithms can’t keep up. The starvation that Native Americans face ties directly to their survival and the survival of their children. Lacking essential needs such as food on a communal level is almost unheard of in the United States.

Without a strong Indigenous presence at the high school, these issues may not feel as urgent as issues that affect marginalized groups with a presence at the high school. This leaves many simply unaware of the conditions Native Americans face, and even less so how they can help.

Our school, with all the values of equity we claim to believe in, has an obligation to do anything we can to help our fellow citizens. These are not foreign societies on the other side of the world, they are Americans in our country and we do not acknowledge their existence as Americans, right here right now – not just in a historical context.

Since the support that is needed isn’t related to changes within the high school itself and is more focused on charity or volunteering, the administration can’t pat themselves on the back or gain praise from students.

Despite how it may seem, solutions do exist, and we as students of this high school have a place in this activism the same way we always do, through spreading awareness about these issues and offering support in any other area we can.

Since volunteering in South Dakota this summer, I started Students for Native American Advancement, a club with the goal of spreading awareness about these issues, fundraising and supporting Indigenous people in any way we can. I am looking for passionate students who care about these issues and can help in any way. Come to room 408 during X-block!