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Proctor’s relationship with Native American cultures and communities remains a subtle stitch in the fabric of the school; only a devoted few work to keep the connection alive. With this valiant constituency’s efforts, Proctor’s connection to the Lakota people is making a resurgence. Despite fading into obscurity in the years following the departures of George Emeny and David Fowler (the founders of the Proctor-Lakota relationship), this year marks one of the most diverse that Proctor has seen in some time. Students today can participate in a variety of ways to strengthen a relationship deeply rooted in Proctor’s identity.
What is essential to maintaining and building this precious element of Proctor? “The connection is grounded in friendship.” says Lori Patriacca, director of the Program. Lori, who traveled to South Dakota over the summer to the Rosebud Reservation, continues: “In the last two years we have been steadily reinvigorating the connection by investing in our relationships…We are so fortunate to have such authentic relationships with people like Jon Jon Around Him and Emily White Hat. They are both willing to have tough conversations with us. The key is to approach each person and each topic with deep compassion and humility.” The larger Proctor community supports these relationships in a variety of ways, such as having JR White Hat visit campus for Earth Day, Mountain Classroom visiting the Rosebud Reservation and meeting with the people working to bring back the Native American Connection, and Tom Morgan’s class connecting with Jon Jon Around Him’s class in Baltimore. The Proctor Native American Connection isn’t only for learning about other cultures and their history; it is about meeting the people, about striving for an understanding of their reality. As Lori said, it is first about compassion. There is a painful history surrounding Native Americans, one that can be difficult to talk about. The real value of the Native American Connection is revealed when one realizes that it affords a universal learning opportunity, one where the lessons learned can be applicable to many different experiences. Indeed, compassion is immeasurably important to learn and unquantifiably hard to teach. Proctor students have a truly unique opportunity to practice compassion and open mindedness through the Native American Connection.
For students interested in celebrating the Native American connection: an excellent way to get to know others involved, inside and out of the immediate Proctor Community, is to participate in an Inipi Ceremony. Held on select Sundays at the Elbow Pond sweat lodge, the Inipi ceremony is also known colloquially as “a sweat”, for that is what participants will do. Within the insulated, low-ceilinged sweat lodge, hot rocks are placed in a central hole and water ladled over them to create waves of heat. When the blanketed flap covers the entrance, the lodge becomes perfectly dark. Steve Lamb conducts this ceremony. Lamb is a local man who has traveled to the Rosebud Reservation with the Proctor faculty group and whose knowledge surrounding the Lakota traditions is invaluable to rebuilding the Native American connection. During the Inipi ceremony, Lamb talks the participants through the Lakota philosophy and explains parts of the ceremony as he goes along. He drums and sings Lakota songs, and his rhythmic chanting and the energetic beat reverberates in the chests of everyone huddling, panting, and wiping sweat out of their eyes. There are moments when the flap to the lodge is thrust open, and even the waning light of the late afternoon is blinding against the thick, heavy darkness of the lodge. And at the end, participants emerge drenched with sweat, shivering in the cool autumn air. But everyone is smiling, feeling refreshed and renewed. It is a cleansing, culturally valuable experience that completely lacks a counterpart in western society.
The future of the Native American Connection remains ‘hopefully ambiguous’. The program is moving in a positive direction with the annual service trip to the Rosebud Reservation, but there remain many more venues to explore expansion. Lori comments: “Proctor used to host a powwow, there used to be a spring term exchange program with the Pine Ridge School, there was a Lakota Language and Culture course taught in the spring, and Native American Studies was at one time an elective.” The program is strengthening, evolving to the needs of the school at this time, and with the support of students, faculty, parents, and alumni, there is no reason to believe that the Native American Connection can not be brought back to it’s full strength and beyond. Practicing compassion, building meaningful relationships, and learning to overcome past wounds are all lessons Proctor and Lakota students can learn together. The Native American Connection emphasizes experiential education, the core values, and renewing something that is an integral part of our own history.
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