WWU Students Volunteer at South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Reservation

Rez-mountainWhile most people are accustomed to numerous conveniences, the Lakota Sioux Native Americans live without electricity, indoor plumbing and regular groceries.

For two weeks in August, six William Woods University students tried to make a difference on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. They made the trip with the Rev. Travis Tamerius, chaplain and director of the Center for Ethic and Global Studies at WWU, and Cyndi Koonse, director of multicultural affairs.

This was the third summer, William Woods volunteers experienced firsthand what life is like for the Lakota Sioux.

During past visits, the WWU group has built bunk beds, built outhouses and skirted trailers. This year, they helped build aLakota-Sioux
handicap ramp and delivered outhouses.

Students who participated

  • Vanessa Davidson of Roseau, Minn.
  • Dana Giboney of Fulton, Mo.
  • Rayel Lytle of Versailles, Mo.
  • Miranda McKee of Jefferson City, Mo.
  • Kim Warden of St. Charles, Mo.


While on the reservation, they participated in a cultural immersion program with RE-MEMBER, an organization that tries to improve conditions on reservations and build relationships.

holeRE-MEMBER is a non-profit organization that works with the Oglala Lakota Nation on Pine Ridge Reservation. Volunteers comprise individuals and groups (adult and youth) from churches, high schools, colleges and corporations who join together at Pine Ridge for a week at a time to participate in various work projects—helping to rebuild relationships, homes and lives.

Part of the cultural immersion program included an opportunity for the William Woods volunteers to talk with the tribe about important issues, including politics and hardships that exist for the Lakota people.

“It really was a wonderful experience,” Giboney said. “Most of the people who live on the reservation don’t even have running water. It is always a very emotional trip that will make you open your eyes and teach you not to take things for granted.”

While at Pine Ridge, Giboney learned the reservation is working to create an equestrian program. The program would be a form of psychotherapy, with children learning to work with horses.

“On the reservation, there are up to nine suicides a week among the kids. The group attempting to organize the equestrian program hopes to reduce these rates. Right now, they have nothing, so I’ve been trying to gather donations around WWU. Anything as simple as brushes or buckets for water could be used.”

Tamerius is pleased with WWU’s involvement at Pine Ridge and hopes to see it sustained.ramp

“We hope to continue our partnership and continue to take trips to the reservation. We would like to do even more to try and improve the conditions for Indians on the reservation,” he said.

“So many great things have come from this. It is a way for each of us to learn the story of our own heritage and culture. Having the opportunity to experience this life that is so different from our own allows us to be aware of history and the
present that is created from it.”

He added, “One thing I hope all my students take away from this program is to appreciate a story other than their own. I hope for them all to have the chance to see the world from someone else’s eyes, appreciate the needs of others as well as the challenges they face and consider those as important as their own.”

For more information about volunteering with the Pine Ridge Reservation, contact Travis Tamerius at travis.tamerius@williamwoods.edu. For more information on how to donate or get involved with the equestrian program on the reservation, contact Dana Giboney DEGiboney@owls.williamwoods.edu.