MISSION, S.D. - Sinte Gleska University, as part of its 31st annual Founder's Day, queried St. Francis school students to help the college establish clear direction for stronger educational services and community involvement.
Moderator Phil Baird asked young people who filled the room at the Feb. 1 special forum what direction they saw themselves going and if and where they planned to attend college.
About two thirds of the students raised their hands when Baird asked if they were college bound. Half of those students indicated they planned to seek higher education opportunities off the reservation while the others said they would consider remaining on the reservation and attending classes at Sinte Gleska.
One of the reasons the students gave for leaving the reservation was, as one student put it, "There is nothing to do."
Many students said access to shopping malls, recreational facilities and the chance to engage in new experiences away from the reservation were reasons for pursuing college careers off the reservation.
But leaving to acquire additional life experiences did not mean they would not return. About half of the students said they would return after college.
Many said they were interested in following professional career paths including the health, legal and computer fields. A small number expressed an interest in career choices such as agriculture. Few were interested in becoming livestock producers.
The desire to see changes in their neighborhoods and communities was universal.
"I would like to have better neighborhoods, lawns, sidewalks and cleaner neighborhoods," one youth said. Amenities missing from reservation neighborhoods are improvements students pointed out that the tribe and communities could make.
Green grass, street names, paved roads and trees in the area topped the list of another student who wanted tribal developments to mirror more urban counterparts.
"I would like a neighborhood watch program," said another.
Many said they were concerned about drinking parties in their neighborhoods and wanted to see change.
SGU President Lionel Bordeaux suggested that university officials meet with the students perhaps once a month to talk about how to make positive changes in the communities. "I think it can be arranged."
Bordeaux said one of the university's interests is to integrate the education system on the Rosebud Sioux reservation to make a seamless education network for students from kindergarten through the college years.
"We always wanted Sinte Gleska to tie in with each and every one of our schools."
He pointed out local educators with ties to SGU including Cheryl Crazy Bull and Nancy Keller, who work with children in their early years, as a way for the college to making a difference in the lives of students on the reservations.
Bordeaux reminisced about the struggles the college faced in its 30-year history to gather resources to build buildings and create a college campus. Now officials have begun to focus on programs and cater to needs of students wanting careers in professional areas.
"I think we've done the hard part. Now we plan to strengthen everything we have."
Plans include further discussion over a possible national and international university system that would provide educational opportunities for all Native people.
Language, health care and the integration of cultural and economic planning were discussed. Preserving the language and bringing it back into the homes of the Lakota people is one challenge university staffers are trying to address.
A relatively recent survey indicated that few students speak the language. The survey reported a division among parents about how the language should be taught. While some favored including it as a part of the school programs, others wanted just basic subjects offered in schools and preferred to teach the Lakota language in the home.
The survey showed fewer than 1 percent of reservation children speak the Lakota language when they start school.
Crazy Bull, who serves on the SGU board, said a survey of reservation students indicated they had a desire to learn the language.
"Everywhere we want to go they say they want to learn the language."
Albert White Hat said those still practicing traditional roles - such as medicine men and spiritual leaders - don't receive recognition they are due. Their connection with the community is often ignored by institutions such as Indian Health Service, he said.
John Spotted Tail, a descendent of the chief for whom the university is named, noted there are many members of the outlying communities who understand traditions but go unrecognized, who could make valid contributions to preserving the culture.
His solution is to include them in gatherings and foster their interaction with tribal members.