Students at Isnala Wicasa Owayawa (Loneman School) on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. Photo: U.S. Department of Agriculture
Education | Opinion

Ivan Star Comes Out: Lakota values obliterated in school system

Questions are being asked about Loneman School

By Ivan Star Comes Out
Native Sun News Today Columnist

Historically, school boards were formed to provide that conduit through which the community’s values and will are channeled into its school. Their predominant duty is to establish policies that serve as administrators’ guides for the day-to-day management of their school. In light of these truths, the functions and decisions of a school board are important.

I have now served 14 months on the Isnala Wicasa Owayawa School Board. For a newly appointed board member, it was strange to have been elected president as soon as being sworn in. Also on that night the only long-time board member refused the presidency even before nominations began. Any school board needs the experience and training of its members, to enhance their effectiveness.

Anyway, I have been active presiding over school board meetings and observing. Initially, I assumed that the school was doing well. However, as time progressed, I began to see things that do not belong in our school or any school for that matter. Also, casual conversions with community members revealed suspicion and an unusual antipathy toward their school and a general feeling of alienation.

I’ve listed some questions that were asked of me within the past year. I believe these came from older district members who know and understand “local control.” “Are we still a contract school?” “Are we going under the state?” and “Why are we going under the state?” Are we going back under the BIA?” and “I heard we are back under the BIA.”

Others have asked, “What is a grant school and what is a BIE school?” “I heard you (school) are using state education standards, so does that mean the school is going under state jurisdiction?” “How come we don’t know about anything that happens at the school?” “Do you know that some of your employees are saying you guys (school board) don’t know what you are doing?”

Ivan F. Star Comes Out. Photo courtesy Native Sun News Today

Much of the confusion in the community seems to arise from the “Grant School” concept. I believe the current grant school (P.L. 100-297) law applies to the funding process only and does not abolish the “638” law. The “100-297” law reaffirms the purposes and goals of the P. L. 93-638 law. Currently, it appears the original 1971 Loneman School Corporation charter no longer exists.

Also, I see what appears to be a shift from “local control” to tribal government annexation. My opinion on that is “tribal” government maintains a multitude of programs. It cannot effectively promulgate education under its bureaucratic structure. However, it seems proponents have successfully ceded “local control” of our school to the central multi-faceted governing body.

Have we abandoned the dream of our predecessors who struggled through the 1960s and early 1970s to be the first on the Pine Ridge to contract educational services from federal government? They dared to delve into independence rather than let someone else take charge of our children’s education.

Since December 2016, I learned that the original school charter was revised but the details of the proceedings remain sketchy. Also, I found two sets of policies and procedures for financial accounting. This was corrected recently but the school board’s new policy manual does not contain the revisions.

I also found one set of policies for a Board of Directors (corporation) and one for a School Board (education). At present the school board is also struggling to operate under an inconclusive Revised Corporate Charter and Constitution. I have not seen this constitution since I came on board and the current charter appears as if it was written in great haste.


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According to school board policy, new board members are to receive training within 90 days of taking their oath of office. This time period is inadequate. At the same time, board training has been slow in coming and the board is relatively new. Presently, we are left to our own discretion as far as training goes. Despite this situation, the Isnala Wicasa Owayawa school board is doing its best to do its job.

Meanwhile, certain school employees, state certified professionals included, have been heard to refer to the school board as “stupid.” This is a clear indication of great disrespect for their employer. I am convinced that the board has been intentionally “kept in the dark” and thus “controllable.” This situation has confirmed my suspicions about some errant activity in the school.

Adding to our situation, we do not have tangible education-related statistics about our students after they graduate. As the community’s education “watchdog” we don’t know how many dropped out of high school, how many completed a trade school or graduated college, how many are employed, on welfare, married, single-parent, etc. We have no way to accurately measure progress or failure.

Instead, I am continually hearing of the high dropout rates and low academic achievement levels of our students. We have no local stats to help us verify or refute these long-standing negative statistics. Why do we not have our own? Instead we continually renew the effort to “civilize” them with the latest advances in western academics or with Euro-American values and standards.

As Methodist clergyman Daniel Dorchester (1827-1907) wrote in 1889, “A sincere effort was made to develop the type of school that would destroy tribal ways.” He was also a statistician of American church history. Today I see our obvious submission to the federal “Kill the Indian, and save the man” policy.

Dropout rates and poor performance are indicative of the deflated self-esteem among our students. As far as academics go, there is not a problem there. The problem is Indian children are not taking to academics because they ultimately realize that they are not included in the mainstream.

Since 1868, we have been incessantly blitzed with “English education” while Lakota values were obliterated. This makes it very difficult to think “balanced curriculum,” which would be an impartial and equal presentation of Lakota and western values. So the new unprecedented task is to produce students capable of living in both worlds as opposed to merely surviving in it.

Imagine bilingual and culturally-competent Lakota attorneys, teachers, scientists, etc. My sincerest hope and goal is for the school board, administration, staff, and the community to achieve a semblance of unity. Only then will we have a chance to establish a future for our children and grandchildren. Our youth deserve a life far better than the one we have endured.

Ivan F. Star Comes Out can be reached at P.O. Box 147, Oglala, South Dakota, 57764; via phone at 605-867-2448 or via email at

Copyright permission Native Sun News Today