Native Students, You are the Ones We Prayed for

I’m inspired and moved beyond words by the posts from SD GEARUP students to their Facebook and social media pages about how much the program means to them. I have been reluctant to comment on anything publicly, for fear that anything I say may cause more harm or damage.

Nothing anyone has written in the media I’ve read, however, has been from the perspective of GEARUP students. It breaks my heart to see the adults, the people supposed to protect our children, tear this program apart in the media.

None, apparently, seem concerned with its accomplishments. That’s the state of Native affairs in South Dakota and our own communities. People have come out of the woodwork to attack something they clearly don’t understand.

Our young people face enough challenges, the continued assault on the GEARUP program, a program that has helped thousands, is a clear assault on Native education.

Consider that about 75 percent (or more) of Native high schools students drop out. Amidst the myriad other depressing crises facing Native youth, critics should consider the real perpetrator of these crimes—a system that has allowed this happen, not the people who try to make life a bit more livable for our already persecuted Native youth.

When something negative happens, now they’re interested in GEARUP? That concerns me deeply.

Where were your cameras and insights as we achieved success, demonstrated our brilliance, and made history as Native youth?

Some of us have been doing this for decades now. I ask the many critics of this program, where were twenty years ago? Where were you ten years ago? Where were you this year?

I did not see you working with our children or documenting their achievements, celebrating their successes.

This program isn’t for adults. It’s for Native students, students such as myself. Students from the GEARUP family.

I want to share with you what this program means to me. GEARUP saved my life more than once. I don’t know where I would be without it.

I’m currently finishing my doctoral degree here in Albuquerque at the University of New Mexico and I’m from Cohort Five (I’m an old guy!). On a recent visit, I saw a lot of my former students at the University of South Dakota, my alma mater. There were so many Native students and most were GEARUP students. I couldn’t believe it! It made me well up with hope that things are changing. Our young people are on the move!

When I attended USD, there were 17 Native incoming freshmen. I was the only one to graduate with my four year degree. The reason for my success was four years of preparation from GEARUP (at the time it was SKILL) programs. Today, I imagine there are more than just seventeen incoming Native freshmen, and I imagine many will graduate, not just one.

I was thirteen when I first met Stacy Phelps. I had no ambitions to go to college. It never crossed my mind. My first summer away at SKILL, I didn’t call home until the week it was time to pick me up!

I didn’t know it at the time, but I was getting ready for the rest of my life. I was too busy trying to be “cool” with peers to realize that. I took it for granted, as we do when we’re young. Now I look back and understand what was happening to me.

I grew up in Chamberlain. There weren’t many Natives in my high school, so going to SKILL each summer with Native men and women who had earned bachelor’s, master’s, and even doctoral degrees was nothing short of inspiring.

The program seemed foreign to me, since many of my experiences living in Chamberlain were alienating and feeling like I didn’t belong.

My GEARUP family, however, was one of brilliance, inspiration, and belonging. It always has been. Nothing in the media about GEARUP has yet featured that aspect.

As the years passed, Stacy became a brother to me and our families became close. My mom was a single parent, raising me and my brother, and I had few positive male role models in my life. I learned how to be a respectful, honorable, and responsible young Lakota man from the GEARUP program. I’m almost thirty now, and I just now understand how this program molded me into a leader and an adult. I’m sure many of us feel the same way.

It gave me the capacity to aspire to be something I never thought I could be.

When my mom passed away four years ago, my GEARUP family was there. They took care of me, they always have. Mom had worked for the program after I graduated as a student. Her lasting legacy is the GEARUP planners, “How to Go, How to Pay, How to Stay,” you may love or hate.

All of us older students and graduates send so many prayers and best wishes to GEARUP. When I was a student, there were only 30 of us. Now there’s almost 300! There are thousands of us out there. That gives me hope, and I pray for this program and the success of my former students everyday.

I want to tell Native students, especially you younger ones: You are the ones we’ve been waiting for. When we prayed, we prayed for you. Everyone at GEARUP prayed for you and worked hard to make sure you have something in this world no one can take away from you—your education.

You are the ones that are going to change this world, to make it livable again and make it a place where we have dignified lives as Native people.

You should be proud of yourselves. I am.

Whatever you may read or hear, just remember this program and all its staff have one interest in mind: you—the young people. As older people, we will do our best to make sure you have what’s rightfully yours in this world.

Hecetu Welo!

Open Letter: Protect He Sapa, Stop Cultural Exploitation

Many of us feel that there is a side to the Rainbow-Lakota controversy being overlooked. Here are the generous thoughts Dakota and Lakota scholars and writers (such Kimberly TallBear, Richard Meyers, Joel Waters, Taté Walker, and myself) share as an educational document as well as a stand against cultural exploitation. Please share and distribute widely.

Numbers: Urban Native America, Violence against Poor & Homeless

Numbers: Urban Native America, Violence against Poor & Homeless.

On Columbus Day, UNM Students Organize “Indigenous People’s Resistance Tour of the University of New Mexico”

La Jicarita


Albuquerque, like most of the rest of the country, celebrated Columbus Day this October 13, 2014. Native students at the University of New Mexico, however, celebrated it as  Indigenous People's Day and organized an "Indigenous People's Resistance Tour of UNM" as a way to remember European colonization of Native people's land as genocide and to remind people that UNM sits atop Native land. The day began when activists began a series of banner drops on various buildings around campus. Above, students dropped a banner from the Humanities Building. Albuquerque, like most of the rest of the country, celebrated Columbus Day this October 13, 2014. Native students at the University of New Mexico, however, celebrated it as Indigenous People’s Day and organized an “Indigenous People’s Resistance Tour of UNM” as a way to remember European colonization of Native people’s land as genocide and to remind people that UNM sits atop Native land. The day began when activists began a series of banner drops on various buildings around campus. Above, students dropped a banner from the Humanities Building.

Banners were quickly removed by UNM staff. The one above was dropped above the entrance to the Johnson Center. Banners were quickly removed by UNM staff. The one above was dropped above the entrance to the Johnson Center.

One of the organizers of the Indigenous Resistance Tour of UNM, Nick Estes, talks to marchers as they gathered southeast of the Student Union Building. He reminded people that the Red Power resistance movement of the 1960s emerged in bordertowns like Albuquerque. "An indigenous presence anywhere is always political because indigenous land is everywhere."  One of the organizers of the Indigenous Resistance Tour of UNM, Nick Estes, talks to marchers as they gathered southeast of the Student Union Building. He reminded people that the Red Power…

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We are more than reservations

I’ve pondered this article by Gyasi Ross and his problematic conclusions all day. Here’s my humble response.

See here:

I agree that there is a “brain drain” happening when young people like myself go off to school and get an education–whatever that means. But does that necessarily mean we are “buying” into some sort of program of assimilation? Or, I would pose the question like this, is Ross’s conclusions another attempt to draw unnecessary distinctions between on- and off-reservation for young people?

I don’t think that’s a fair or very understanding dichotomy. First, most reservations were created under the auspices of prisoner of war camps. Natives were never meant to leave and leaving often meant (and still does) violent retaliation. Now the rhetoric is that we’re supposed to “turn reservations into homelands.” Yes to tribal sovereignty, etc. but what about those who were violently removed from their homelands? Better yet, what about homelands that have been dispossessed of us that we still cherish? I’ll fight for treaty land and against KXL even though that treaty land has been dispossessed and stolen. I’ll live in places that are not reservations, but does that make them any less Indian land or homelands? I hope not.

Second, I’ve always enjoyed Ross’s articles, whether I agree with him or not. But he drank the Kool-Aid on this. I was taught that what little remaining land and autonomy we still possess is to be defended at all costs. More importantly, we have to be good relatives to each other, whether we live on the reservation or not. We’re a free people if we want to be. Confining our identities to essentialized notions of reservation Indians is just plain wrong. What about treaty lands? What about the fact that half our populations live in urban settings? Hello! Are they any less Indian?

My advice to young Native people: you know who you are. You know where you came from. Forget all the bullshit about not being enough Indian. I’m sure you’ll figure it out. Ask us life-long students if you have problems or questions. That’s what we’re here for. You’ll probably end up somewhere that’s Indian land or at least Indigenous land. Fight for that space. Make the space Indian when everything says it shouldn’t. You belong there as long as you’re accountable to its original inhabitants. Above all, you belong where you are right now. So be in the right now. But don’t ever forget your home or your nation. If you do, we’ll always be here for you. And thank you and we’re proud of you wherever you may land.

Insanity: Chamberlain, SX and the D/Lakota Honor Song Controversy

The last four years at Chamberlain High School has to my mind witnessed a significant limitation to the routes of possibility for Native students. That is, students and community members (Native and non-Native) have struggled long and hard for what many South X school districts have already conceded—the simple act of allowing a traditional D/Lakota honor song to be sung at a high school commencement ceremony. It may seem to most a simple request—a not too radical and non-offensive gesture that seemingly doesn’t discriminate against non-Native students.

But, if the Chamberlain School Board has virulently resisted having the song sung at a graduation ceremony, what does that say about D/Lakota honors songs? Are they offensive? Are they coded with non-English words that may be telling Natives to overthrow the government? Of course not. Four years of actively resisting an honor song to be sung at a high school graduation does say something about the town of Chamberlain, at the least the values of the community reflected in the Chamberlain School Board.

I’m tired of writing about this issue. I’m tired of reading about it in the news and on Facebook. I’m tired of it interrupting visits with relatives when I come home. I’m tired of the back and forth of who has the right to talk about this: are students to blame? Are adults to blame? Are school administrators to blame? Are community members to blame? These questions beat around the bush, since what we’re talking about is power—or as Chamberlain School Board President Rebecca Reimer reiterated (almost comically), “It’s about control and power. It’s about control and power.” Who has the power to silence a voice, a song, a people, a nation? Who gives them that authority, and why do we invest respect for that authority in those individuals? These may seem like rhetorical questions. But if we continue to play the blame game and not acknowledge the white elephant in the room (no pun intended), we will always arrive back where we started—doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results.

This is the definition of insanity.

If we look at the town of Chamberlain, we will see that many of the town’s residents are Republicans, staunch Republicans at that. But this is not a bipartisan issue. What this is about is land. Without a doubt, Republican controlled local and state governments hack and slash education budgets. So then why do people continue to elect them? Land. Pure and simple.

Electing conservative candidates to the school board is not about a quality education and equal access, it is about keeping property taxes low. If you don’t believe me, maybe the eerie silence from local Chamberlain community members who elected these school board members into office says something. Recent news reports and statements from community members stress that “not all of Chamberlain is racist.” But you don’t see droves of community members filing petitions against the school board. You don’t see droves up in arms against a blatant act of institutional racism.

Democracy worked. Property taxes are low. And the majority of the school board is still vehemently opposed to the honor song.

So why should we expect different results when the same people are elected into office for the same reasons that have nothing to do with education? The ball is in your court, Chamberlain. The rest of the nation and the world has weighed in. Even the SX Indian Education Summit recently decided to pull its conference from the Oacoma/Chamberlain area because of the school board’s decision. What next?

CALL FOR PAPERS: “Essentializing Elizabeth Cook-Lynn”

Download PDF: Essentializing ECL CFP
“Essentializing Elizabeth Cook-Lynn”
Special Issue: Wicazo Sa Review 2015 – 30th Anniversary Issue, Vol. 30, no. 2
Guest Editors: Nick Estes (Kul Wicasa) and Melanie K. Yazzie (Diné)



This special issue examines some of Elizabeth Cook-Lynn’s richest but least understood and utilized interventions into Native Studies. Most existing work on Cook-Lynn comes from literary criticism, and the majority of this work focuses exclusively on her short essays about Native Studies and identity politics. This limited treatment of her otherwise voluminous work results in significant gaps in our understanding of her contributions to Native history, law, and politics— the key components of Cook-Lynn’s conception of Native-centered “treaty sovereign/ nationalistic” epistemologies. In light of the many literary critiques of Cook-Lynn’s works that currently exist, this special issue instead seeks critical engagement with her most pertinent interventions into the areas of history, law, and politics in Native studies. It is our hope that such an issue will bring these ideas into circulation (some for the first time) within Native Studies research designed to respond to the ongoing demand and dispossession of Native homelands and resources, the diminishment of Native political/legal/historical power, and the unabated dehumanization of Native peoples. We invite submissions from Native scholars who come from a wide array of backgrounds, including Native intellectuals, professionals, and community organizers; however, we want to privilege young and/or emerging Native scholars whose work is explicitly engaged with Cook- Lynn’s critical interventions into the discipline of Native Studies.


We encourage submissions that critically engage with a method or methodological application of Cook-Lynn’s work. Although not limited to these concepts, we especially encourage research-based submissions that deal with the following in historical, juridical, political, heuristic, and practical research:

Native survival – Tribal reality – Separatism – Native voice – Indigenousness – Sovereignty – Ethno-endogenous epistemologies – Anti-colonial and anti-imperial Indigenous resistance – Marxism and Native Studies – Native critical theory – Essentialism – Gender – Native feminism – Nationhood – Dakota/Lakota homelands

Critical Review Essays:
In addition to soliciting full-length articles, the editors also seek reviewers to provide critical reviews of books and articles where Cook-Lynn formulates her most potent interventions into Native Studies, history, law, and politics. Although many of these works have been previously reviewed, the editors ask new reviewers to identify the current relevancy of the arguments Cook-Lynn extends in her most pertinent essays and books. For example, a critical review could re-examine the purpose and direction for Native-centered scholarship undertaken today by reviewing Cook-Lynn’s famous piece “Who Stole Native Studies?” (1997) in the context of her critical, historical work with Wicazo Sa Review.

Deadlines and Submissions:

  • August 1, 2014
    • Articles: 500-word abstract and one-page CV
    • Critical reviews: books and/or articles you would like to review, a one-paragraphjustification of your interest in the chosen works, and a one-page CV
  • August 15, 2014 Accepted article proposals and critical reviews notified
  • March 13, 2014
    • Articles: 25-30 page manuscripts (Manuscripts should be double-spaced throughout,have numbered endnotes and be prepared in conformity with The Chicago Manual ofStyle, 16th Edition)
    • Critical reviews: no more than 2500-word manuscripts (formatting guidelines same asabove)

The editors will consider submitting a panel proposal of the accepted submissions to the 2015 American Indian Studies Association Conference.


Please e-mail article abstracts and critical review paragraphs to:
Nick Estes
PhD Student, American Studies, University of New Mexico
MA, History, University of South Dakota
Melanie K. Yazzie
PhD Candidate, American Studies, University of New Mexico
MA, American Studies, Yale University

Review of Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz’s The Great Sioux Nation Sitting in Judgment on America, An Oral History of the Sioux Nation and Its Struggle for Sovereignty



Find my review “This is not a Peace Pipe: The Continued Struggle for Lakota Liberation” below.

GSN CNS Review 2013