For generations, southwestern South Dakota has been the site of conflict between the Lakota Sioux, the predominant tribe in this rural region, and White ranching communities. This conflict continues to play out in a number of different arenas, including the public schools. In the Winner School District (WSD), for example, Lakota youth are greatly outnumbered and virtually all teachers and administrators are White. Although nearly a quarter of WSD's more than 1,000 students are Lakota, few Lakota youth make it to high school and even fewer graduate. In 2004, Indians made up only about six percent of the senior class. Through this project, tribal members will leverage historic opportunities for racial healing and positive youth development created by a settlement agreement between the WSD and Lakota students and parents. As part of the agreement, there is the first-ever high school elective on Lakota history, and a Lakota teacher/ombudsperson who has helped convince WSD officials to rethink excessive discipline of Lakota students. Lakota student participation in extracurricular activities has jumped and teachers and administrators have received training on "positive behavior support" instead of punitive discipline.
Building on the momentum through a potentially replicable series of youth-focused dialogues and interventions, this project is designed to reduce conflict among Native youths; reduce Native-White youth conflict in school; and build communication and understanding among Native and White adults in the Winner community and beyond. Specifically, this project will: expand and sustain an alternative dispute resolution program for Indian youth, teaching peace-making traditions; contribute to the development of in-school peer mediation program involving Native and White youth together; facilitate youth-focused (and possibly adult or parent) dialogue among White and Native communities; and identify strategies for use in other racially hostile environments. While, WPP has dismantled the more obvious obstacles to the success of Lakota youth, this project will now support these vulnerable youth by tackling the more subtle obstacles that require dialogue and mutual understanding.