April, Wini, Jalynn, Devona, Irene, Martina and Chelsea in front of a Mandan lodge.

April, Wini, Jalynn, Devona, Irene, Martina and Chelsea in front of a Mandan lodge.

After months of preparation, St. Joseph’s incoming eighth-grade class embarked on a week-long trip.

Their journey took them to sites of cultural, spiritual and historical significance in South Dakota, North Dakota and Montana. What they learned will help prepare them for their future.

“Each stop was connected to one of the great leaders of the Sioux Nation,” said Tony, a St. Joseph’s houseparent who spearheaded the initial planning process.

Now in its third year, the trip follows the same course each year. A boys’ route and a girls’ route were carefully planned to help the Native American students get the most out of each site. During the school year, students learned about the figures and events that made each point on the map significant.

The girls climb down into Wind Cave.

The girls climb down into Wind Cave.

Bear Butte and Harney Peak, for example, are important spots in the Lakota rite of Hanbleceya - Crying for a Vision. While visiting these sacred places, students made tobacco ties and offered prayers to the Great Spirit.

“At some point in their lives, each of these students will need to make a difficult decision, just like Sitting Bull, or Crazy Horse or Gall,” said Tony. “When that time comes, I hope they will look back on the places we visited and the things we learned; they will find within them the things they need to move forward in their lives, to help themselves and their people.”

Separated into boys and girls, each group set out from St. Joseph’s the same day with the same itinerary, but followed it in opposite directions. South Dakota stops included:

  • Wounded Knee Museum in Wall
  • Tatanka Museum in Deadwood
  • Bear Butte and Harney Peak near Sturgis

Farther west, students visited Mato Tipilia, more commonly known as Devil’s Tower, in Wyoming.

In Montana, students visited Greasy Grass, the site of the Battle of Little Big Horn. Heading east to North Dakota, they:

  • Toured Fort Buford, where Sitting Bull surrendered in 1881
  • Visited Fort Union, an important trading post
  • Hiked Medora National Park
  • Visited Fort Abraham Lincoln
  • Visited On the Slant Village, an early Mandan settlement

The boys worked together to erect a tipi.

The boys worked together to setup a tipi.

After each stop, students spent quiet time making journal entries about what they saw and learned from these cultural, historical and spiritual sites.

Back at St. Joseph’s Indian School, the two groups convened. After a prayer service, they enjoyed a picnic with their families before heading home to enjoy their summer break.


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