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Native American Heritage Month: St. Joseph’s Indian School celebrates Rock your Mocs event

Published: Nov. 24, 2021 at 6:54 PM CST
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - Nearly 72,000 Native Americans live in South Dakota with Nine tribal governments residing within the state.

As part of our ongoing coverage of Native American Heritage Month, we’re visiting St. Joseph Indian School in Chamberlain, where students are taking pride in their roots while discovering their path for the future.

The scene of the flowing water of the Missouri River has looked the same for decades. The photos of the children who had a chapter of their lives at this Chamberlain school on the banks of Missouri also appear timeless.

“I see some of our current kids in the faces of these kids even from 1927,” said La Rayne Woster, the Native American Studies Lead at the school.

St. Joseph’s Indian School was established when the Catholic church purchased the Columbus College Campus at Chamberlain.

“Father Henry Jogebach came to the United States and wanted to do something for the people of this area. And he began St. Joseph Indian School,” said Woster.

Every student is encouraged to embrace who they are.

“Morning, noon night, we add culture into everything that we possibly can be a part of and the kids love it,” said Woster.

Parents enroll their children for many reasons. The majority believe this school will provide their kids with more opportunities for a better future,

“Our passion is that they will continue that teach it to somebody else. And as they walk on through life, they will continue living their culture speaking their language,” said Woster. “We use natural herbs, sage, cedar, we make tea. We Azilia or smudge the kids. Mind, Body, heart, and spirit is what St. Joseph’s Indian School is about.”

Last week, St. Joseph’s students participated in a Rock your Mocs event, to promote cultural pride and to honor ancestors. Joe Tyrell helps students participate in similar events year-round.

“November is Native American Heritage Month and we amplify that during this month, but in reality, we’re celebrating that all the time,” said Tyrell.

Room and board, food, education, and medical care are provided at no cost. What the students acquire here creates ripple effects back home.

“We teach our kids songs we teach them prayers. So then when they’re in Sweat, when they’re Inipis, when they go to Pow Wows, they can combine those two,” said Tyrell. “Say an Our Father in a Christian Catholic way in your language before going out and dancing a powwow. Or you can use your language in church you can add an Inipi, you can say Mitakuye Oyas’in to end your prayer. So we’re interweaving those two cultures all the time.”

And creates more options in the future.

“Helping students find who Creator made them to be. Who they are, by God, who they are by Tunkasila so that they can grow through St. Joe’s and help find their path,” said Tyrell.

The path of the families and the next generation may come full circle.

“I’m seeing some of their children return and say: I had such a great experience at St. Joe’s, I’m sending my kids to go to school there because I learned so much and it was a great experience,” said Woster.

Families have flexibility on how often their children come home, as frequently as every weekend.

While many events have been limited during the pandemic, directors look forward to public events, like their annual pow wow to happen again.

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