Dream Catcher: The Lakota Waldorf School

Children running copyIt started with a dream.

The Lakota Waldorf School sits on a golden South Dakota hillside in the heart of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. It is an equal distance from the Stronghold Table, where Ghost Dancers once staged a desperate attempt to regain peace and prosperity in their sacred lands, and Wounded Knee, where the sacred dream died.¹ Home to the Oglala Lakota, the reservation is both a beautiful and a desolate location, where one can imagine great potential and a bitter struggle to survive. When the United States government created the reservation in 1889, this was land that no one else wanted.

A dream begins in the mind, is shaped by the will,
and is eventually manifest on earth.

Pine Ridge is an impoverished community where generations have suffered the highest rates of unemployment, substance abuse, and suicide in the United States. The desire to break with that continuum, and the historical trauma that led to it, has never been stronger. A fresh vision, based on modern resources, has turned buzzwords like “regenerative community development” and “food sovereignty” into promising Pine Ridge initiatives.² Tribal wisdom calls for bringing the new generation up with their native language, because it defines their values and heritage.

Waldorf education, effectively employed across six continents and all economic strata, teaches that critical thinking stems not just from the head, but also from the heart and soul. If Pine Ridge youth are to transcend their fractured legacy, they must grow into asking important questions, and ultimately embark on a quest for the meaning and realization of their life.

The Lakota Waldorf School

Wakanyeja unkitawapi ki Lakoliyapi na Lakol
ounyanpi ki yuha manipi kte heca.
Our children must walk with the Lakota language
and the Lakota way of life.

Established in 1993, Lakota Waldorf is the only school of its kind on U.S. reservation land. Founding school parents chose the Waldorf education model for its parallels with First Nations values, and its adaptive curriculum that welcomes indigenous language and culture. It is an independent, tuition-free school that operates entirely on grants and donations. Parents participate in fundraising events and form the Board of Directors.

Alumni stand-outs include a Gates Millennium Scholar currently attending Colorado State University. Another alumna completed her Waldorf teaching certification and has returned as a class teacher. Lakota Waldorf currently offers grades K-6 with the goal of expanding into 8th grade.

LWS classroom

Among other Waldorf essentials, the school has a small garden where the children learn to plant and harvest organic vegetables. Seasonal harvest is added to their lunches.

Many reservation dwellers suffer from poor nutrition. Lakota Waldorf provides its students with two organic meals a day, and sends them home on Fridays with a “weekend bag” of organic snacks. One parent expressed gratitude to Lakota Waldorf for changing her food awareness, and therefore what she requests at the market.

The school also stores a variety of donated jackets and boots for those who arrive on cold winter days without warm layers.

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Autumn Harvest 2017
Thinking, Feeling, Willing

Lakota Waldorf lessons range from mandated core subjects to studies in native culture and language, handwork and woodwork, native dance and song, and social events (powwows) that build confidence and community. Waldorf education cultivates abilities along with knowledge.

Lakota Language Lesson
Alex Firethunder-Loeb teaches a Lakota language lesson.

sign at powwow

 

The healthy social life is found
When in the mirror of each human soul
The whole community finds its reflection…
— Rudolf Steiner, Founder of Waldorf Education

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Lakota Waldorf students participate in a regional powwow.
Math Block
Celestine Stadnick teaches a middle school math lesson.
I visited the Lakota Waldorf School in late August 2017, the second week of the new school year. Spirits were high among students working outdoors, and a birthday celebration was about to unfold in the kindergarten. Office administrator Isabel Stadnick took a break from her busy schedule to tour the grounds with me, highlighting the construction site of their future campus.

The school exceeded my expectations in terms of organization and content. The young teaching staff is committed to educational goals and professional development, and the students are exceptionally kind, generous, and eager.

The dream of a new campus.

As enrollment grows, the Lakota Waldorf classrooms must also grow. Work has begun on the new energy-efficient, straw bale construction campus. Your interest and support is welcome! Please visit their website Lakota Waldorf School or follow their progress on Facebook.

Hillside 2
The current school buildings.
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The future campus — still a dream.
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Pouring the new foundation • September 2017.
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Framing the new classroom • November 2017.

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful,
committed citizens can change the world;
indeed it is the only thing that ever has.

— Margaret Mead

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Pine Ridge Indian Reservation borders the South Dakota Badlands

——
¹ The Ghost Dance ritual and the massacre at Wounded Knee occurred on the Pine Ridge Reservation in December 1890.

² See Thunder Valley CDC.

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Posted: November 12, 2017

© 2017, Cynthia Albers, All Rights Reserved

7 comments

  1. “May our feeling penetrate
    Into the center of our heart
    And seek to unite, in love,
    With human beings seeking the same goal
    And with spirit beings who,
    Full of grace,
    Behold our earnest, heartfelt striving
    And, in beholding,
    Strengthen us from realms of light
    Illuminating our life in love.”
    -Rudolf Steiner
    Founder of Waldorf Schools

    Like

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