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“Wawokiye” in South Dakota

“Wawokiye” in South Dakota

For years, a contingent of Jesuit students has traveled to South Dakota each summer to serve the Lakota Sioux people, assisting the St. Francis Mission in its service of the Rosebud Indian Reservation. This year, 10 rising seniors – Hendrix Bromberg, Austin Hamilton, Gage Holeman, Oliver Hund, Jake Judson, Joseph Kapusta, Nico Miranda, Justin Scott, Brody Thurston, Robert Zettler – along with chaperones Andy Wood ’92 and Henry Ibanez ’87 operated a Vacation Bible School for the Lakota children of the reservation during the second week in June, while also restoring the local cemetery and giving of themselves in the tradition of Jesuit students for more than a decade before them, making an impact as ‘Men for Others.’ Go to @TigerPilgrims on X/Twitter to view daily updates of their journey, and for photos go to the Facebook page Jesuit High School of Tampa. One of the students, Hund, wrote the wonderful story below about his transformational experience in South Dakota.

 

"Wawokiye" in South Dakota
by Oliver Hund ’25

“Wawokiye” is one of the seven values of the Lakota people. It means generosity and caring. Of course, generosity and caring are concepts taught to most everyone at an early age. We are aware of the ideals those words encapsulate, and many try to live by them.

However, the humble, impoverished, and hopeful people of the Lakota tribe within rural Rosebud, South Dakota do more than just try to live by the principles of generosity and caring; they themselves define Wawokiye.

Our week-long service immersion mission trip to South Dakota started June 8 with a 6:00am meet up at the Tampa Airport (and though I was last to arrive, I got there at 5:59). The 10 of us, all rising seniors at Jesuit, along with chaperones Mr. Andy Wood ’92 and Mr. Henry Ibanez ’87, then started the two-flight journey to South Dakota. Most of us knew each other vaguely from school, while a few knew each other quite well. Our flight back to Tampa would be a major contrast – we returned as 10 tight-knit brothers.

Once we arrived in South Dakota, Coach Wood and Mr. Ibanez drove us to Mount Rushmore. The national monument could receive its own essay of description, but for brevity’s sake know that photos could never begin to convey the profound beauty and scale of witnessing it in person. However, my personal favorite site was the Badlands, which we experienced the next day. To this teenage boy, Badlands was perfection. Miles of unearthly rock structures which spiked from an equally impressive terrain of expansive plains and cracked, dry soil served as nature’s playground. We got to spend the bulk of the day sliding down clay hills and climbing small precipices while also making a stop at the famous Wall Drug souvenir district.

Those first 36 hours were enjoyed by us, but the rest of our time would be committed to the Lakota people, primarily the children. For the week, we would be running a Vacation Bible School (VBS) and doing community work.

During VBS, we split into groups of two and handled learning stations in which we engaged with the kids and taught them basic Catholic principles by using stories, games, science experiments, and other means of interaction. This was followed by lunch, playtime outside, and a craft to finish the camp day. The opportunity to be with these children was beyond moving. I not only got to know each by name, but was fortunate to form bonds with them as well. Listening to Ryker explain to me the science behind funnel clouds, eating lunch and discussing video games with Mattheus, and playing “jail” outside with Olivia (I was of course always the prisoner), these were the joys that VBS had to offer. The children had a profound youthful energy and eagerness.

However, the story of the children attending VBS is more complex. Rosebud is a town strewn with domestic violence, neglect, drug use, and poverty. There is no doubt that the children at VBS are subject to the issues of reservation. Talking to them, I learned snippets of their hardship, which both shocked and saddened me. Even more shocking, though, was that no one would ever guess the condition these kids live in upon meeting them. This is the miracle of the rural reservation of the Lakota people, the miracle of living through Wawokiye. The immense gratitude, joy, and love of life itself which the kids carried despite their circumstances was astounding and, honestly, a bit guilting. How many times in my life had I complained about food? Taken my baseball glove and bat for granted? Thrown away things because I no longer have a use for them? Disrespected my parents whom I am so lucky to have? These are the questions I found myself reflecting on the most during our nightly small groups.

Each day after VBS we performed service projects in the community during the evenings. Much of the reservation’s infrastructure was dilapidated and unkempt. We primarily worked on cleaning cemeteries that had been trashed and deteriorated. Places such as Rosebud have to deal with so many problems and issues that there is no effort attributed to properly honoring the dead, and we were lucky enough to be able to contribute to the community through that effort. However, what was painfully notable about the cemeteries were the dates on the tombstones. Many gravesites were the resting place of younger people, boys and girls close to our age. This is why our help with the Lakota tribe is paramount. While Rosebud is a community filled with unexpected hope and joy, it is also plagued by threatening matters. Thus, as ‘men for others,’ we have an innate responsibility to help the Lakota people.

Our service to the community helped us to grow in our brotherhood. When faced with the hard reality of life on the reservation, your Jesuit brothers are there for you, and you of course are there for them. Singing in the vans, throwing the frisbee before dinner, playing card games way too late into the night, deflating Joey’s mattress for the 8th time, and everything else helped to make the trip even more special. I know I can rely on each of my Jesuit brothers as if they were family.

There was a lot to learn from my time on the reservation, too much to write in one essay. However, there is a certain attitude that you get from being there, even just for a week. The living conditions of the people there are tough, their very lives are full of hardship, yet their souls are grateful, caring, and generous. These qualities are evident in the Lakota people’s heartfelt gratitude for our work, the smiles from the children, and the brotherhood formed between us. Such qualities are infectious and uniquely intense in Rosebud; it’s appropriate to call it Wawokiye.