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First class welcomed at Rapid City Oceti Sakowin Community Academy

Mary Bowman addresses parents, students, and leaders as the Oceti Sakowin Community Academy opens to its first class of students.

The first class of kindergartners at the Oceti Sakowin Community Academy was introduced to teachers Tuesday, at the city’s first indigenous-led and designed school.

NDN Collective, a Rapid City-based indigenous advocacy organization founded the academy.

NDN Collective president Nick Tilsen addressed the students.

“To all the little ones you might think – why are all these people here? Why did the drum come? Why did the elected leaders come? Why did all the grandparents come? They came here for one reason. And that’s for you," Tilsen said. "It’s for you and for your future.”

The curriculum includes daily lessons in the Lakota language, and reflects subjects including environment, identity, culture, sovereignty and treaties along with general academic subjects.

Mary Bowman, with the NDN Collective education equity team has fifteen years of education experience in the Rapid City area. She compared the academy’s vision with her own educational background.

“We learned in a very nurturing environment, and I don’t feel like its been that way for a long time," Bowman said. "That wasn’t my experience in education, I graduated from the Rapid City Area Schools. I think the opportunity to see themselves in what they’re learning is a big thing, they’re going to be motivated and engaged.”

Bowman questioned the school district’s efforts to sustain the Rapid City Lakota Immersion Program.

“We want to see our indigenous students do well, and we’re not waiting for somebody to do something," Bowman said. "We’re getting out there and doing it. I think that effort was a half-hearted effort, and I think that’s part of the problem.”

Families interested in enrollment can find more information at ocetisakowinacademy.org.

C.J. Keene is a Rapid City-based journalist covering education, healthcare, arts and culture.