SWC Building Will Reflect Dakota Renaissance

May 15th, 2003 | By | Category: 14-4: Cultural Resilience, Tribal College News
By Pam Wynia

SWC frequently honors students who have excelled with a drum group and a traditional prayer. Pictured are Denise Krueger, David Goette and Camille Green.

Sisseton Wahpeton College (SWC) has hired an architect to design new buildings on its Sisseton, SD, campus that will reflect the Dakota culture. For example, the vocational education building will be a two-story octagon resembling a large drum. Four of the sides will be flanked by three-story figures of drummers, representing the four directions. Dr. Bill Harjo LoneFight, SWC president since July 2002, said, “The new building will offer one of the largest open spaces in the area for gatherings, accommodating at least 300 dancers. When the figures are lit up at night, you will be able to see them for miles.”

While this may be the most visible evidence, the tribal college incorporates culture in more subtle ways as well. Chartered in 1979 by the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate, the college is helping to usher in a renaissance for the Dakota people, according to LoneFight.

The personnel policies at Sisseton Wahpeton College (SWC) take into consideration the traditional values of kindness and reciprocity and allow one employee to give excess sick leave time to another employee. The SWC Student Senate has organized a group to help individual students if they are short on gas money or need help getting to class.

In addition to offering Dakota language and Dakota cultural classes, the faculty also incorporates traditional values and concepts into other classes. The Science Department has been using funds from the David and Lucille Packard Foundation to examine ways to infuse Dakota concepts into classes. A new class, Traditional Plants and Herbs, involves Dakota elders who take field trips with students to identify the plants in their natural environment. When working with the local tribal elementary schools, the SWC Extension program includes traditional Dakota foods.

Dakota elders play other important roles at the colleges. They teach classes, such as beading, star quilt making, and drumming, and evening speakers emphasize the traditions and history of Dakota people.

Elders who still speak Dakota fluently gather every Friday for a Dakota Immersion Luncheon. There is a discussion leader, and people are free to discuss any topic they wish, as long as they speak Dakota. This lunch program grew out of a SWC project about the 1862 Dakota conflict when the U.S. government held many Dakota people as prisoners of war. The prisoners had been taught to read and write Dakota by missionaries, and many corresponded with the missionaries from prison. Local elders are translating these letters, which tell the Dakota side of history. Since the Dakota language has changed over the past 100 years, the elders must sometimes discuss the context to determine a word’s meaning.

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