Lakota Country Times: Pine Ridge youth hone skills with film project

Our Lady of Lourdes students review their video interviews for the “Our Community Story” project. Photo courtesy Red Cloud School

Lakota Students Hone Skills During Film Project
By Jim Kent
Lakota Country Times Correspondent

PORCUPINE –They may be at the early end of their careers, but someday we may be seeing a former Pine Ridge Reservation student on public TV or even hosting “The Tonight Show."

As 4th graders from Our Lady of Lourdes Elementary School in Porcupine and the Red Cloud School in Pine Ridge have been working on their “Our Community Story” project, they’ve been getting hands-on experience interviewing people – “just like professionals” according to one subject.

The Red Cloud Heritage Center’s “Our Community Story” project has been taking place since December 2015 and involves student interviews of Lakota elders, artists and adults from various professions. Its purpose is to explore and preserve Lakota storytelling as a sacred form of communication.

But, of course, it’s also a historical, cultural and social learning process for the students involved.

Don Montileaux is a Rapid City-based artist who frequently visits schools in the area - both on and off the reservation. He teaches kids about what he does and helps them to explore their own talent. Montileaux met with students at the Our Lady of Lourdes and Red Cloud schools for his interviews.

“It probably was like 45 minutes at Our Lady of Lourdes and about an hour and 15 at Red Cloud,” recalled Montileayux. “And they were well organized. They were great little kids. They had a little set that they had designed at Red Cloud for me. It had a backdrop and everything…and 2 comfortable chairs.”

Sonia West and her granddaughter, Alex, participate in the Our Community Story project. Photo from Red Cloud Indian School

Montilleuax was impressed by the level of professionalism shown by the students who asked all their own questions themselves.

“And they conducted the interview just like you’d see on public TV,” he observed.

A large part of the students’ ability, Montileux added, might be due to their teachers.

“Our educators on the reservation are more involved with the children,” he noted. “Rather than talking down to them they talk with them. You’ll see that in the whole school system there anymore. They’ve really got some good, educators and good teachers. And they’re really doing a lot more with the children. A lot more than when I grew up.”

The students asked Montileaux about his career in art and how he began. The artist explained to them that he grew up in the small reservation village of Kyle and added that identifying where he’s from generally has a positive impact for any Native American youth.

“I think it’s great that kids can meet elders and meet people who have a professional life,” Montileaux commented in referencing the “Our Community Story” project. “And they can see that it’s not a far dream. It’s reality. They can do this.”

Lakota elder Basil Brave Heart was also interviewed for the project. Brave Heart said that many of the students’ questions for him focused on what life was like when he attended Red Cloud School’s predecessor…Holy Rosary Mission.

“I shared some of the things we did there,” Brave Heart recalled. “Half-a-day or work, half-a-day of school. It was mostly nuns and brothers and priests then. They had their own bakery. All the vegetables we ate were grown right there at the school. All the milk products…butter, cow’s cheese and milk…were from the dairy farm. We had our own shoe shop.”

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Brave Heart observed that it seemed difficult for his 4th-grade interviewers of the 21st century to comprehend items like fresh milk or fresh food deliveries that were available in a self-sustaining environment. But that, he added, is one of the benefits of the “Our Community Story” project.

“It brings the young people and the elders together,” he noted. “And there’s a world of difference…what their grandparents experienced.”

The elder added that the students also didn’t seem understand just what the boarding school system was and told him that they’d never heard of it.

The Our Lady of Lourdes and Red Cloud School students are currently in the editing process of their film work. The “Our Community Story” videos are scheduled to be completed and ready for screening by the first week of May.

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