Dawn Marie Johnson (Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate-Lake Traverse Indian Reservation), 31, of Summit, South Dakota, is pursuing her dream with her mentor organization, the Summit School District/Joe Foss at Axtell Park, to improve mental health and wellbeing for students at the school.
“In collaboration with tribal entities, community members, and other valuable existing organizations and curriculum, my project offers mental health and wellbeing clinics twice a month to students ages 14- 21 who attend Joe Foss at Axtell Park alternative school,” she reported in November. “This allows students to access potential harm reduction strategies and mentors to help youth cope with mental health-related challenges or risky behaviors.”
Her overarching dream through the clinics and mental health and wellbeing kits is to help prevent death by suicide in Native communities.
“What I envision is whole family support to encompass is providing counseling services, resources, preventative curriculums (such as suicide prevention or bullying prevention) and risk factor screenings to all Summit School students and their families.”
She is currently the program director for the Summit School District’s 21st Century Community Learning Center Out of School Time and Summer Enrichment Program.
“I was sought out by Summit School District when they were awarded the 21st Century Grant to start, build, grow and host a successful afterschool and summer program in the rural area,” she told us in her Dreamstarter application.
In October, students who participated in beading sessions spoke of how they benefited from learning more about their traditions.
“Making these earrings was therapeutic for me,” said 19-year-old Kharisma. “I loved coming every day and connecting more with my culture. It reminds me of where I’m from.”
Other participants included:
Sofia, who said, “I felt it was important for me to be a part of beading because I learned how to use my time efficiently. I learned how to use my patience and put together something amazing! I thought it was a wonderful learning experience that I feel I will use in the near future.”
DayZa, who told us, “My grandmother spends most of her free time bead working and helping her grandkids reconnect with their indigenous culture. This helps keep our culture together and find more ways to express the beautify of being native.”
And Angelique, who says, “Beading was important to me because I like to learn about different cultures. I love new experiences, and beading was fun and something to do with my hands. I also think it’s a great opportunity for students to learn new things or feel like their culture can be brought into school and be included.”
Anna Brokenleg, M.A. Ed., is an instructional coach for the Office of Indian Education at the Sioux Falls School District, commented on Dawn’s Dreamstarter project saying, “Arts have been an important part of Indigenous culture in North America forever.
“The revitalization of arts programs for schools is significant for the success of our students. I often like to say; culture is the cure!”