Thursday, May 19, 2011

Strangely Quiet

It’s a really strange feeling to wake up this morning and know I won’t see any FIS students today. We ‘graduated’ the seniors yesterday and then sent all of the students home for the summer. No more kids dropping by in the afternoon to check Facebook in my office or calls for me to pick up a Subway or stopping by my office to get candy. Weird.

I wouldn’t have believed how quickly I could fall for a group of students. There are so many tender souls lying just beneath the surface of tough exteriors and as I have dug in just a little, I’ve gotten to hear enormous stories of disillusionment, abandonment, alcoholism, drug addiction, sexual abuse and relationship infidelity among others. It’s not like I haven’t heard any of these issues before in youth ministry because I have.

I think the big difference between ‘American’ culture and the Indian culture is total disclosure. Non-Native kids have the same problems generally as Indians but pretend that they don’t. We don’t talk about the junk in our lives and pretend that issues aren’t going on even though they clearly are. A left-over “don’t ask-don’t tell” mentality from the Clinton era perhaps? I’m not sure. Maybe we just don’t discuss such things in “polite company.”

I have found with Native teenagers that they are much more open with their issues. They are not afraid to admit that they have an addiction or drug problem or about disclosing some of the situations that got them to that point. Last week after chapel was over, I had another one of those candid moments where kids just sat around talking about home life. They freely admitted that it is not unusual for the family to sit around getting high together or drinking until everyone has blacked out.

One of the hardest things for me to do this year has been not to see things only from my perspective but to consider cultural perspective as well. I have had to get out of that “polite company” sort of thinking because there are real issues going on here and I’m hearing about them. While I don’t condone kids getting high or wasted, it is a real challenge to counsel students about making bad decisions regarding substance abuse when that is so culturally rampant among their family groups. They simply have never known anything different.
Having said all of that, I think these kids have seen the negative consequences that these types of behaviors have brought on their families and long for someone to offer them something greater. I truly believe that they all desire something greater for themselves beyond getting wasted every day and being held back by limited reservation opportunities. They want more for themselves.

They may never admit that openly because, again, it’s not culturally acceptable for them. Yesterday at graduation I saw it in the pride of accomplishment and the self-worth that came with receiving a diploma. For some of them, it had taken years to get there and they were among the few in their families to have achieved that honor. Some will go on to college, unheard of in many of their families.

I’m an optimist. I pray that one life a t a time I can have an influence and make a difference by letting kids know there is so much more out there for them if they’ll chase after it.

Monday, May 16, 2011


We’re just finishing out our first academic year at Flandreau Indian School. It is unbelievable that we have made it through our first winter in South Dakota (happily) and are witnessing our first crop of seniors graduating this week.

It’s exciting to hear about plans and for kids to begin to realize that there can be a future if they are willing to pursue it. There are so many opportunities available for Native Americans if they’re willing to check into them. Scholarships, financing and special programs are accessible at nearly any college that an Indian student could possibly be interested in. Hopefully, many realize their full potential and don't settle for life on the reservation that yields little opportunity for the longterm.

So you might ask. “What now? What are you doing all summer now that the students have all left?” We’re hitting the road visiting as many supporters as possible, educating about the Indian School and sharing our experiences with serving Indian students over the last eight months.

We will leave South Dakota on May 26 and head for the east coast where we hope to catch up with many old friends in the Hunterdon County, New Jersey area. I will return to South Dakota to attend the South Dakota Methodist Annual Methodist Conference on June 8 & 9 then will travel south to Sioux Falls to take part in the South Dakota Synod Assembly of the Lutheran Church on June 10 & 11. Back to New Jersey after that and we’ll head down the east coast visiting friends and making new relationships along the way.

We’ll eventually end up in Florida by the end of June where we have many previous connections from the last six years. We hope to be back in South Dakota by mid-July in time for the Flandreau Pow-wow.

Keep an eye out for us and if you’d like to get together with us please contact us. The support we received over the last year has been tremendous and we look forward to meeting up with many of you over the next couple of months.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Pebble In Our Shoe

Sometimes we cannot recognize our blessings because we are dwelling on the "pebble in our shoe" 

That was the statement I presented to my chapel students last Sunday asking them what they thought it meant. We were discussing gratitude and how we fail to experience the blessing because we’re so focused on the present instead of the larger picture.  They didn’t even hesitate to give an answer.

One answered and the others quickly agreed that Native Americans as a people cannot get past the fact that the white man took their lands. The government has since provided them with housing and food, places to live, education—you name it, it has been provided to them but ultimately it just returns to that one excuse of “Yeah but they stole our lands.”

It was really eye opening to me that this is still such a raw, open wound; so many generations later it has been handed down to the next age group that this is a wound that shouldn’t be allowed to heal. There wasn’t even any hesitation trying to think of an answer to this statement. I don’t know if it was really keen insight or if this is truly what all Indians are taught and believe.

By holding onto the past the Indians fail to recognize all that has been provided to them in order to move ahead as a people. By failing to forgive they are locking themselves in a place where hope is limited and opportunities are squandered.

I continually am telling kids that as Native Americans they have so many opportunities that they don’t even realize. One of the students was really stressing that her ACT scores weren’t high enough to get into the college she wanted. She was saying “My mom doesn’t even make $15,000 a year. How can I afford to go to college?” I looked at her and said, “You’re Native, your mom’s at the poverty level and you’re smart! Where do you want to go?” Talk about  getting every box checked for acceptance.

Continue to pray that the I, along with the rest of the staff of Flandreau Indian School, can influence kids to know that there are so many more opportunities beyond the reservation that do not include drinking and smoking away the rest of their lives. There are so many bright possibilities and God wants these lives to realize their full potential.