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Lakota educator brings his traditions to the classroom

PORCUPINE, S.D. - Sunday mornings on KILI Radio, located on the Pine Ridge Reservation, the quick-witted ''Blues Disc Jockey'' Bryant High Horse spins blues tunes that are heard throughout Lakota country. His good sense of humor ironically goes well with his blues tunes radio show. He is always good for an on-air joke that usually ends with a long, winded ''Eh.''

The boisterous disc jockey, the great-grandson of High Horse, is a teacher and guidance counselor for the Indian Education Department in the Rapid City School District in South Dakota. During the school week, High Horse, Sicangu Lakota, can also be heard cracking humorous one-liners in the hallways at North Middle School.

In January, High Horse implemented a Lakota Culture and Language class for sixth-grade students. Students, both Native and non-Native, signed up on their own initiative to be in it. Initially there was only one class, but so many students signed up that a second class was added.

High Horse was excited to teach this new class and said he feels his students are starting to understand the accurate history of the Lakota people. Seeing that they are eager to learn, because they ask a lot of questions, he tries to encourage them to help each other learn as a group. Together, they learn about the traditional ways of the Lakota people and understand their virtues of bravery, wisdom, generosity, respect, traditional roles, historical timelines and the medicine wheel.

''I feel my responsibility as a Lakota man is to teach our kids to respect each other and teach our boys and men to respect the women. I teach the boys that they need to respect all women and they all have a mom, sister or grandmother in their lives who deserves that same respect. Lakota men need to learn how to respect Lakota women,'' High Horse said.

He also teaches the same traditions to his students at Oglala Lakota College, where he is an adjunct professor of Native psychology and Lakota studies.

''Native American psychology is an entirely new field and includes the study of the Lakota people both past and present. It is the study of how Natives infuse their language, cultural and traditional philosophy into today's world. We always had 'Native psychology,' but our ancestors did not record or write about it. They just lived it. We as Lakota people have gone through so many tragedies that we are still on a healing journey. If we can let that pain go, I think we can succeed,'' High Horse explained.

Much of what he learned from his grandparents while growing up on the Rosebud Reservation is passed on to his students. High Horse was taught the ways of his ancestors and how to speak and write fluently in English and Lakota. He grew up hearing that a good education was very important. His uncle was his teacher, principal, basketball coach, role model and mentor who also stressed the importance of education. He was a big factor in helping High Horse believe in himself.

High Horse is one of a group of educators who presently are working toward the preservation of the Lakota language. Everyone in the group can speak and write fluently in Lakota, and they are developing strategies to preserve the language. He spoke proudly of the group: ''All these great people with such knowledge are all working hard to preserve the Lakota language. I am honored to be a part of this group.''

''Oyate Nawicajin'' is High Horse's Lakota name, which means ''Stand for his People.''

He stands for his people through his work with the Lakota youth and has changed lives by teaching through music, humor and education. It is all in a day's work for this briefcase warrior.