This relatively new tradition of burning sage and doing a traditional prayer for the beginning of the new academic year has united the campus, while providing a space for Native American students to meet and network.
Last week, members of the campus group, Eagle Feather Society, brought Duane Shields to campus to smudge and give blessings to students and staff on campus. Nearly twenty people came to the noon gathering; included in the prayer circle was WDT President Ann Bolman.
President Bolman has been at Western Dakota Tech for about four and a half years. During her time on campus, she has worked to welcome Native American students to the various programs offered at WDT. According to Bolman, the campus enrollment is approximately 12-15 percent Native American, which is reflective of the population of Rapid City (according to the 2010 census).
“Today we are doing a smudging and prayer with The Eagle Feather Society, which is for every student who is interested in Native American culture. The smudging is a traditional ceremony and blessing. We feel like it’s an awesome way to get off to a great start this fall semester,” Bolman told NSNT. “It gives our Native students an opportunity to bring their culture and understanding as to how they are going to proceed this school year.”
Bolman stated that of all the colleges and universities in South Dakota that are public institutions, Western Dakota Tech has the highest percentage of Native American students. “We really are excited by that, primarily because it shows how widely open and inclusive our programs and faculty are. We include everybody in our communities to get ahead,” said President Bolman.
She believes the Native American population of Rapid City larger than statistically stated. “We always want to do better. We feel it is important to help people in our community, no matter what their back ground. We want them to make connections with their culture and we want them to come to Western Dakota Tech to get an awesome career,” Bolman stated.
President Bolman looks forward to working with tribal students and tribal communities to help get members enrolled in their various campuses. She encourages those interested to come take a tour and get some information about possible programs of interest.
Students of The Eagle Feather Society meet regularly throughout the school year to plan events, fundraisers and prepare for the end of the year eagle feather ceremony, in which graduating Native American students are honored by family and friends for their accomplishment.
The challenges for any student to enter and finish a program are similar. The challenges for Native American students are unique in many ways. This can include moving to urban areas for the first time, being the first person to go to college in their family, generational and historical traumas, various other reasons related to reservation living and a general marginalization from educational facilities. Western Dakota Tech invites students to their campus and this prayer circle is part of that welcoming.
Jenny Best is a Student Success Coach for WDT and advisor for The Eagle Feather Society. “Last year when I started, there were only two members of Eagle Feather Society. My goal was to increase the awareness about the club and gain more members. One of the ways that we did that was we held a fundraiser last year and raised $500 for a program down in Pine Ridge,” she said. “By doing that, other students realized there was an Eagle Feather Society on campus.” They ended up with eight students in the club and were able to raise money to buy tipi poles for the group’s tipi.
Best had moved to Rapid City to work for a non-profit which would have staff members gather in the morning to burn sage and pray. She suggested to the club to do the same for each semester. “We thought that it would be conducive to do it each semester, just to start the semester off right. We did our first smudge and prayer for the spring solstice.”
The group waited until the third week of the semester to promote the event and give students and faculty an opportunity to adjust to the beginning of the semester. Some of the Eagle Feather’s goals for this year would be to fundraise for the end of the year feather ceremony. This would possibly include helping with some of the star quilt expenses. These fundraisers include ‘Lunch and Learn’ programs in which persons come in and teach different aspects of Native American culture.
“I think that bringing any type of culture into the campus, our club isn’t just for Native American students; we would like all students to participate if they would like to learn more about Native culture. It’s very prevalent in Rapid City. I’m not from here but I have become immersed in the culture and I think that everyone should,” Best said.
The Eagle Feather Society would like to thank everyone who participated, including President Ann Bolman and Duane Shields for his prayers. They want to invite students to attend the meetings and get involved with the Eagle Feather Society.
(Contact Native Sun News Today Correspondent Richie Richards at email@example.com)