]This page is dedicated to discussing my three years on the Rosebud Indian Reservation in the 60’s . You may see some of the pictures I took of the kids that we cared for.]
Life in the 60s was different from today. And this applies especially to career management. College graduates were not so driven for the almighty dollar, but would often consider contributing some of their time to a worthy cause before jumping into the moneymaking rat race initially. It was this kind of thinking that made me consider working on an Indian reservation. The Rosebud reservation was located in southern South Dakota just north of Valentine, Nebraska, and a school called St. Francis located there was looking for teachers. I ultimately spent three years there teaching math and science, along with something called "prefect duty," the process of walking the grounds, watching the children. And since it was a boarding school for 70% of the children, being a prefect also involved putting them to bed each night.
The many of the people on the reservation lived in run-down houses with large families. Some homes I visited had corn break in a frying pan that anyone could grab. The government provided them with medical help, and various churches collected clothes and other necessities to distribute. The Indian culture was very different. While the key values of the white many included making money, being on-time, and living a structure daily life, Indians' values were based on years of living as a group, settling down for only a short time, surviving from local plants or hunted animals, and being flexible and un-structure. One particular value I always admired was that of sharing. We had an agreement with the government that it would provide flour for baking, if we would bake bread buns and distribute these regularly to children. Thus, every day at 3PM the kids would line-up for buns. (Some who had spending money would buy a candy bar and insert it inside the bun to make it tasty. Inevitably, almost no child was left to go hungry, each being helped by one of his buddies.
This is just an example out of many that represented the rich culture of the Rosebud Sioux. These Indians had such values as respecting elders, sharing, keeping quiet, and being unstructured. Many of these had helped them survive as a hunting society on the prairie. Thus, during a hunting expedition, silence was important. Often mothers would pinch the baby's lips together so that crying would not scare away the buffalo or let the enemy know they were nearby. (I noticed later that because of this maternal training, when children were injured on the playground, they did not cry out loud or wail like white children, but let out a soft whimpering noise).
Being unstructured meant being flexible. Having a tight schedule would not work on the midwestern prairie. The tribe had to be ready to move in a moment's notice. And respect for elders helped the tribe survive and learn from earlier mistakes. But the elder was not there to just give advice but also to ponder and meditate on life. What did the movement of clouds indicate about upcoming weather? What was the role and importance of the Great Spirit? What was the tribe's code of ethics?
Thus being an Indian was not simplistic; it was a different way of living and thinking. And ironically an Indian child, say, under 6 years old, thought that an Indian was someone in a western movie. It wasn't until about 12 or that an Indian child realized all of the implications of being Indian, along with the differences between a white and an Indian child. It was for this reason that at St. Francis, a program was instituted to teach the 7th and 8th-graders about their culture, its values and its implications.
The problem that faces young Indians in the 21st century centers on one question: should they hold onto their rich culture and continue to practice it toward their advantage? Or should they adjust themselves to the modern American world in order to become financially independent. Doing the former may leave the Indians stranded in a rich culture but without the practical know-how and confidence of getting and maintaining a job in a white-dominated society. On the other hand, doing the latter may be difficult or impossible, given the pressures of living off the reservation and sometimes inadequate preparation for college in the lower school grades. Fortunately there has been progress. There are many—though not a majority—of young high school graduates who have attained a college degree and hold professional roles both on and off the reservation. Secondly, there has been progress in bringing industries to the reservation.