Assistant Chief Don Hedrick is the mentor of Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe member, Cecelia White Eagle, in the Akicita Mentorship Program at Western Dakota Tech in Rapid City. Photo by Richie Richards / Native Sun News Today

Native Sun News Today: Akicita program brings students into law enforcement

Akicita is the Lakota word for warrior
By Richie Richards
Native Sun News Today Correspondent

RAPID CITY – A program at Western Dakota Tech pairs up students in the criminal justice program with longtime Rapid City law enforcement officers for mentorship and learning.

Akicita is the Lakota word for warrior.

The Rapid City Police Department and Western Dakota Tech held an Open House celebration for the Criminal Justice and Criminal Justice Law Enforcement students who are part of the Akicita Mentorship Program at the school’s Event Center. This collaborative program between WDT and both the police department and sheriff’s office is focused on bringing Native American students into law enforcement through training and mentoring.

The mentorship program provides support from law enforcement agencies in Rapid City and literally opens doors for students who wish to learn more about the trade. Students are exposed to areas of the police department and sheriff’s office by staffs who discuss the day-to-day details of their positions. The hope is to inspire the possible recruits in becoming a part of these law enforcement programs.

Native Sun News Today interviewed two Lakota women who are mentees in the WDT program. These two women have unique backgrounds with common goals; they both would like to someday return to the reservation and fight crime through leadership and experience. Both women speak with a fearless voice when it comes to their decision to become officers of the law and they are proud to be a part of the program. Their mentors play a key role in their success.

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Cecelia White Eagle, 30, is in the Criminal Justice Program at WDT with an emphasis in law enforcement. She is currently in her third semester and says she loves it.

“The opportunities that have opened up and the doors that have opened up to me is what I like most. It's taken me to a place and in a direction I have never been before and never thought I could go,” said White Eagle.

White Eagle was born on the Cheyenne River Reservation at the old IHS building. She was raised in the town of Green Grass. This is the home of the sacred pipe held by Arvol Looking Horse. Traditionally, these are holy grounds for the Lakota people and White Eagle is aware of that honor.

“I was raised in Green Grass, right there at the sun dance grounds. I used to go by there every day to go to the river,” she said of growing up on the reservation. This constant recognition of the sacred presence gives her a confidence that comes out when she speaks.

She claims that it was not a conscious decision but rather that law enforcement chose her. 

"I was going to school in Dupree, in head start when I was chosen to be Student of the Week,” said White Eagle. “They did a newspaper clipping on me and I said in there I wanted to be a policeman. I was probably like 4-years-old when I said that.”

In speaking on a cultural spiritual level, White Eagle said that when she was a little girl, she shot an arrow into the universe when she made the statement of wanting to be a policeman.

“I've been chasing down that arrow all my life. I've been trying to find it and pick it up,” she said. The arrow she speaks about is her dream; a dream that has taken nearly thirty years to be realized.

“This is the closest I've ever been. I start the academy in January here. When I get done here, I will be reciprocitied to start and I can be hired on to the Rapid City Police Department. That is the goal to remain here in the community, that way I can help mend and heal the bond between the Native American community and the police department,” said White Eagle.

White Eagle said she would like to be a positive force and show youth that they can rise above gangs, drugs and above the poverty which holds so many back from achieving their goals; of finding their arrows. She wants the younger generation to know they can rise above these social constraints and make the most of the opportunities they are given. It just takes commitment and sacrifice.

“A lot of our youth need that push because a lot of them are misguided. I just want to be a light in the dark,” she said.

As part of the program, White Eagle has been paired up with RCPD Assistant Chief, Don Hedrick. Assistant Chief Hedrick has been very active in the community in race relations and improving the understanding officers have with the needs of the Rapid City Native American community.

“It’s been great. I have really enjoyed it. She is a great and energetic woman. We’ve been finding ways so that we can keep her in our department; to see what we do, to see what our officers do,” said Hedrick. We’ve had her do a couple of different ride along’s with a couple of different shifts.”


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