Although the official first day of summer is June 21, for children on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation - such as those who attend Little Wound School, a K-12 school located in the town of Kyle in the heart of the reservation - summer vacation is already here.
Nearby, practically within a stone’s throw of the school, is Running Strong for American Indian Youth® newest affiliate, The Oyate Teca Project.
With school out for the summer, hundreds of children will be spending their summer days at Oyate Teca’s community center, all under the loving, watchful eye of Running Strong Field Coordinator Rose Fraser.
With assistance from summer staff members, Pine Ridge will have the opportunity to participate in healthy, fun-filled activities every day at Oyate Teca.
In addition to the daily operation of the center which is open to any child, there will be something for everyone from its “Monday Night Leagues” featuring basketball, volleyball and horseshoes.
Wednesday nights offer “Movies Under the Stars” where kids, and adults, can enjoy family-friendly movies sitting on lawn chairs or blankets with nothing but the broad expanse of the South Dakota night sky over their heads.
Holidays, such as the Fourth of July, will also be celebrated in a big way at Oyate Teca, along with powwow activities throughout the summer, ice cream socials and hot dog socials during league nights, and even fishing derby tournaments.
For families who support Oyate Teca through community service, Rose provides special evening events such as a trip to the badlands (“Our badlands, not the tourist badlands”), horseback excursions, and a trip to Wounded Knee.
To educate children, and some adults, about their cultural heritage, Rose has brought in Lakota elders “to tell a little bit about our culture and share a smudging” (a ceremony practiced by some Native Americans that involves the burning of sacred herbs, in some cases for spiritual cleansing or blessing).
Attendance at the league nights ranges from about 30 kids to more than 80, particularly on nights when Running Strong weekend food bags are distributed.
Also scattered throughout the summer are book distributions where kids can stop by to get up to five books. “This is a program we use to encourage the kids to continue reading in the summer,” says Rose.
Oyate Teca also sponsors a bicycle safety training event provided by Oglala Sioux Tribe public safety officers which culminated in 60 participants all hoping they would be among those selected in a drawing to receive a brand-new bicycle.
“Thank you for the bike training,” commented Cheryl M., a Pine Ridge grandmother. “My grandkids really needed to know from the cops how to stay off the road and use the sidewalks.”
All of these activities and more are made possible through the generous gifts of the supporters of Running Strong for American Indian Youth® ensuring that hundreds of children have a safe place to be all summer long, and their parents don’t have to worry about having to leave their children unsupervised all day while they are at work.