Storytelling traditions continue at conference

On Friday, Oct. 17, the 26th annual Consider the Century conference was held in The Union and was open to the public. Charles Woodard, distinguished professor, coordinated the event with the help of Paul Baggett, associate professor, and Richard Meyers, associate professor and director of tribal outreach.

The event started in 1989 in response to the 100-year anniversary of South Dakota’s statehood. The anniversary’s slogan, “Celebrate the Century,” was not appropriate for South Dakota’s tribal people. The conference began as an opportunity for tribal speakers to come to the SDSU campus and discuss what could be learned from the past to effectively change the future, according to Woodard.

The speakers at this conference included Craig Howe of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, Robert White Mountain of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, Elizabeth Cook-Lynn of the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe and Gabrielle Tateyuskanskan from Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate.

“The speakers were chosen because of their knowledge of important contemporary issues and concerns and their understandings of the history of those issues and concerns.” Woodard said. “We also try to choose speakers who represent a variety of tribes and areas of the region.”

During his presentation, White Mountain talked about the struggle his reservation had in the battle against suicide. According to White Mountain’s presentation,in2009therewere 24 suicides in 21 days on the Standing Rock reservation.

To benefit his community, White Mountain planned to build a garden for the youth of the reservation to enjoy. According to White Mountain, there are over 5,000 trees that provide food, including 350 fruit trees surrounding the near 65 acre garden.

Cook-Lynn discussed the importance for public art and the educational opportunities it can provide. Cook-Lynn is the president of the First Nations

Sculpture Garden Inc.
First Nations Sculpture

Garden, Inc. is currently working to build a sculpture garden honoring four American Indian people of the 20th century. Charles Eastman, Vine Deloria, Oscar Howe and Nicolas Black Elk are the honorees.

Consider the Century is an educational conference that can introduce students to American Indian cultures. According to Woodard, American Indian culture should be integrated into everybody’s education, including kindergarten.

“They [American Indian cultures are rich in understandings of what it means to be human on this earth, and how to live appropriately here, in relationship with each other and with the earth itself.” Woodard said. “In my opinion, we ought to integrate tribal thought and philosophies into all of our courses on all levels… Doing so would also contribute, of course, to the establishing and strengthening of relationships between all of the people of our state and region.”

According to Baggett, many students know of the socioeconomic ills on reservations. These ills include, but are not limited to, alcoholism, poverty, violence and suicide. The stories of these ills should be told but there is a lesson to be learned.

“Whether it has to do with your kinship practices, the family, the importance of language, sometimes we’ve had story telling, sometimes we’ve had the historical lessons. My favorite stuff is really the cultural richness of the tribes.” Baggett said of what students should take from events like Consider the Century.

Cook-Lynn said that the stereotypes and environment can have a negative effect on children growing up on the reservation. The conference and the sculpture garden offer an opportunity to change that.

“We’re real people who do real things.” Cook-Lynn said. “I graduated from here (SDSU) in journalism and I became a writer…that’s really that the conference is about.”