Students’ Trek to South Dakota Indian Reservation Sparks Reflection on Identity, Value and Legacy
March 31, 2022

During Spring Break, eight CRSM students traveled to South Dakota to visit Red Cloud High School, a Jesuit and Lakota high school on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

The 1,000-mile bus trek marked the fifth journey our Waukegan high schoolers have made to form new friendships, gain cultural understanding and appreciation of the Lakota tribe traditions and experience contemporary life on the reservation. It is part of a mutual exchange and Red Cloud students will be visiting CRSM in May.

From hiking seven miles to Black Elks peak, to shadowing students at school, to participating in a native Inipi Ceremony (Rite of Purification) and Catholic Mass, dining on Indian tacos and immersing themselves with their new friends in the Lakota culture, CRSM students returned brimming with stories about their experience. Some have dubbed their newly formed understandings of one another’s languages “Spakota,” meaning newfound combinations of Spanish and Lakota. says Jim Dippold, Director of Campus Ministry who, along with college counselor, Sharon Holdvogt accompanied students. For photos, click here.

Here, senior Fernanda shares a powerful reflection on her experience:

Quiero empezar dando las gracias por tomando el tiempo para leer esto, espero que les inspire como me ha inspirado a mí. I want to start off by thanking you for taking the time to read this as I hope it inspires you as much as it did to me.

Going to Red Cloud High School was an amazing experience that taught me so much. I’m not going to lie, at first, I was really nervous since it was my first time traveling so far away. However, arriving on the reservation felt like a breath of fresh air. Seeing all the cows and horses on the fields and the mountains on the horizons, it’s a view that felt unreal.

Being a city girl all my life, made me value the land so much more. I had the opportunity to climb to Black Elk’s Peak. At first, it seemed like a task too hard for me to handle. I luckily had Ms. Holdvogt and my friend Diana by my side. With their support, we climbed the mountain like champions. Getting to the top of the peak was truly an unreal feeling, the sense of accomplishment it gave me to see the beautiful mountains. It made me realize how beautiful our world truly is. The first thing I did when I got to the top was called my parents. I wanted to show them what I was able to accomplish with their love and support and help them realize that it was because of them I’m here.

I had the chance to see how connected the students are with their land and their culture and it helped me value and appreciate my culture a lot more.

To the Lakota people, their land is sacred and their culture is their identity. Getting the chance to learn about their history made me respect the Lakota people and all Native Americans for how passionate and strong they have been fighting to keep their culture alive.

Talking to the students, I learned that their language is dying since many of their elders died during the Pandemic. Now more than ever, the students are trying their hardest to educate themselves in Lakota and continue what their elders once did.

Seeing how the students appreciated their culture made me recognize the value of my culture. While I don’t always recognize it, my culture is my identity. My grandparents won’t live forever and my culture is in my hands to continue. Like many other students, we don’t recognize the beauty of things until someone helps us recognize the true value.