Suburban Students Reach Out to Crow Creek Reservation



Every June, students from the Brother’s Keeper club at Barrington High School, in Barrington, spend one week at the Crow Creek Native American Reservation, in South Dakota, listening to the stories of the Lakota Elders, playing with the local children and fixing homes and shelters. The students are trying to alleviate the suffering of a culture struggling to maintain their identity.

The statistics for the Reservation are devastating: 80 percent are unemployed; 63 percent suffer from alcoholism; 73 percent have diabetes; and 27 percent are homeless. Suicide rates for men between 15 and 24 years old are seven times higher than anywhere else in the world. For women in the same age bracket, rates are two times as high.

Brother’s Keeper began in 2000 as a project of high school Guidance Counselor Ray Piagentini. While participating in a native ceremony, he experienced a vision instructing him to bring the Lakota and white cultures together by teaching about the nature of life and death—something that Piagentini says is not taught in schools.

Originally a club of 15, Brother’s Keeper membership has grown to more than 60. Throughout the year, members learn about different aspects of the Lakota culture at meetings and by volunteering at local powwows and fundraising events. Piagentini observes the participation and interest level of students during this time to determine which are selected to go to the reservation in June—typically around 40—up from eight in 2000. Two years ago, Piagentini also began a smaller trip conducted during Barrington’s first few days of winter break, when winter necessities such as coats and holiday toys are distributed.

In selecting students, Piagentini says he looks for those with, “A pure heart, clean mind and clear eyes.” Over the past seven years, Brother’s Keeper raised $35,000 to build a house for one of the women on the reservation. In addition to members of her own family, she houses and feeds children on the reservation that do not have a place to stay. Money is still being raised for that home as well as a daycare center to be built near it.

Mitakuye Oyasin is a Lakota phrase that means, “We are all related.” One of the club’s goals is to bring the message to the western culture of suburban Chicago that every aspect of nature is connected, and therefore should be treated as such. BHS senior Paige Dunseith remembers, “After spending a week together, we became family with the Native Americans. As we held hands on the last night, an encompassing energy circulated among us, defining us as a family. That bond felt on the last night was one of the strongest bonds I have ever felt with others. We were one. We were Mitakuye Oyasin.”

The program has won multiple awards, but Piagentini shakes his head at their mention, saying, “Awards and honors don’t matter. I just hope students get an awareness of themselves and the world, fully understand Mitakuye Oyasin and realize they can live a life of significance and service.”

Students do not spend a “typical day” on the reservation, as every day brings a new experience. Only two aspects are set in stone: a daily trip to the nearby St. Joseph’s Indian School for swimming and showers, and an outing to Walmart on the last day, where the local participants are given a sum of money to purchase what they would like. Often, they choose clothing, food, and toiletries over toys.

Sixteen-year-old Terry Curley who lives on the Crow Creek Reservation hesitates when asked how Barrington’s Brother’s Keeper program impacts him. “I don’t know how to explain it. It’s impacted me in such a positive way. It’s the best part of my year.”


For more information or to get involved, email RPiagentini@Barrington220.org or visit Tinyurl.com/7ubclpo, Tinyurl.com/6m42ybk and YouTube.com/watch?v=SJnsMJBcAXE.

Madeleine Lebovic is a junior at Barrington High School and has visited the Crow Creek Reservation twice with Brother’s Keeper.

Edit ModuleShow Tags

More from Natural Awakenings

Qigong Healing:

Five thousand years ago, Chinese medicine said, “Qi moves the blood.”

MAKING THE BEST USE OF

Some people are more welcoming and tolerant of change than others. Those that enjoy an opportunity to learn and grow personally or professionally will see it as a good thing.

Inaugural Bison Crawl to Celebrate National Bison Day

These massive animals, characterized by long, shaggy brown coats, have poor eyesight, but acute hearing and an excellent sense of smell.

Blending Business and Spirituality

Fetzer started a long preoccupation with radio in 1922 and built an empire to become one of the 400 richest Americans by participating in new communication technology, including radio, television and even cable.

LISA NICHOLS

Lisa Nichols, the keynote speaker for the Celebrate Your Life event, from June 8 through 11 at the Westin Lombard Yorktown Center, is a popular motivational speaker and media personality.

Add your comment:
Edit ModuleShow Tags

See More »This Month

Suburban Students Reach Out to Crow Creek Reservation

Students from the Brother’s Keeper club at Barrington High School are trying to alleviate the suffering at the Crow Creek Native American Reservation, in South Dakota.

Great Lakes Day Provides Focus on Regional Issues

Joel Brammeier, president and CEO of Chicago’s Alliance for the Great Lakes, recently traveled to Washington, D.C., on Great Lakes Days.

Heeere’s Johnny!

The legendary Johnny Appleseed will appear at the Green Metropolis Fair.

Howard Street Farm Demonstration Garden

A 10,000-square-foot demonstration garden is being installed by the nonprofit group The Talking Farm, in Skokie.

Run Through the Countryside at Tryon Farm

Tryon Farm, 60 miles from Chicago, in Michigan City, Indiana, is putting on their first annual healthy, happy 10K Trail Run.

Infinity Foundation Presents Gregg Braden Workshop and Crystal Gala

The Infinity Foundation will celebrate its 15-year anniversary at the annual Crystal Gala and fundraiser. An awards ceremony will honor Gregg Braden.