Group from William Woods Provides Service on Indian Reservation


A group of students and staff from William Woods University
traveled to Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota last month for a week of
service-learning among the Oglala Lakota Sioux.
“When you consider all the factors that go into the quality
of life index, the challenges on Pine Ridge Reservation are considerable,” the
Rev. Travis Tamerius, university chaplain and director of the Center for Ethics
and Global Studies, said. 
“Pine Ridge has been described as a third-world country
inside a first-world nation.  The agency
includes the poorest counties in the United States with an unemployment rate at
a staggering 80–90 percent.  It has one
of the lowest life expectancies in the Western Hemisphere and the teenage
suicide rate is four or five times the national average.”
The trip was part of Woods Around the World, a WWU program
directed by Tamerius that is multi-cultural, interdisciplinary, collaborative
and service-based.
The group included current students Sydnee Kuster (Bunceton,
Mo.), Madeline Ortego (Fayetteville, Ark.), Courtney Shotwell (Chesterfield,
Mo.) and recent graduate Tiffany Bounds (Kingdom City, Mo.). 
They were joined by Tammy Carter, director of multicultural
affairs; Rebecca Seitz, campus counselor, and Travis Tamerius, university
chaplain and director of the Center for Ethics and Global Studies.  Cyndi Koonse, former director of
multicultural affairs at WWU, also accompanied the group on the trip and shared
her knowledge of Native American ways.
While there, the group participated in a cultural immersion
program at Re-member, a nonprofit organization on the Pine Ridge
Reservation.  Re-member exists to
“improve the quality of reservation life through relationships, shared
resources and volunteer services.”  
 “Re-member is doing
some fantastic work on the reservation,” Tamerius said.  “Their mission statement describes their
purpose as ‘an organization that exists to recall our country’s treatment of
the Native people of the Americas and to repair the broken pieces of that
relationship.’  Similarly, Woods Around
the World is focused on student trips that help us to appreciate differences
between cultures and identify ways that we can bring those gaps through
friendship and mutual respect.”
Each day the team learned about the Lakota people from
various guest speakers.  The Native
speakers told stories about the history of their people, their cultural values,
the current challenges for those living on the reservation and their hopes for
the future. 
“As an aspiring
social worker, the trip to the reservation allowed me to redefine my focus on
what I plan to do once I graduate,” Ortego, a senior, said. “To see firsthand
how the third-world status poverty has plagued the area of Pine Ridge and its
residents was an eye-opening and humbling experience.  I plan to pursue an internship at Re-Member
next summer to acquire more experience and knowledge about the reservation that
I will surely pass along to others.”
The team also spent time each day doing various work
projects—building bunk beds, skirting a trailer and constructing outhouses.
“Each day brought a certain amount of satisfaction as we knew
the bunk beds were getting children off the floor and giving them a more
comfortable place to sleep,” Tamerius said. 
“I was very proud of our work team. 
Each person took turns with the power tools, cutting boards and hanging
plywood.  Others installed insulation
under the trailer, in very windy conditions.”
Shotwell, a junior psychology major, commented, “This trip
changed my life and made me realize what’s really important. I plan on
returning at much as possible and as soon as possible. My heart remains on the
reservation and I know now what I am supposed to do in life.”
Tamerius shares Shotwell’s perspective.
“On each of these trips, we have a great deal of fun
traveling together, but we also learn a lot,” he said.  “And we put ourselves in a position to have
our own liv