On Thursday, March 6, U.S. Senate candidate Rick Weiland visited with students at Red Cloud Indian School on the Pine Ridge Reservation to discuss the importance of public service and the needs of South Dakota’s tribal communities. Weiland is touring the state and visiting every town in South Dakota to better understand the needs of all South Dakotans.
“It was a great experience visiting with the bright and engaging students at Red Cloud Indian School,” Weiland said. “We need more schools like Red Cloud Indian School that help children reach their full potential. It is through education that we are going to break the cycle of poverty, both on and off the reservation. We need to invest in our children and their education so we can ensure that a child who grows up on Pine Ridge has the same opportunities as a kid who grows up anywhere else in America. It is time we make that investment.”
During a day of meetings on the Pine Ridge Reservation, Weiland participated in a roundtable discussion with 25 elementary and high school students from Red Cloud, a nonprofit school system that serves 600 Lakota students from K-12. Weiland shared stories from his career in public service and listened as students voiced their concerns about challenges facing the reservation.
Red Cloud students raised a number of crucial policy issues including environmental concerns around the Keystone XL pipeline, economic development and access to quality education. A high school student with dreams of becoming a speech pathologist asked Weiland how he would support education on the reservation.
“I think funding for education is critical,” Weiland shared in response. “Investing in education is investing in our economy.” Weiland continued by saying he believes everyone needs to be involved in improving South Dakota’s communities, whether as a teacher, entrepreneur or a public servant.
Weiland, a fifth generation South Dakotan, is a Sioux Falls small businessman and Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate. Throughout his career in public service, Weiland has been committed to addressing the complex challenges facing Indian Country. In 1997, he was appointed by President Bill Clinton to serve as a Regional Director for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and worked to improve emergency services for underserved communities on tribal reservations. Weiland has earned the endorsement of all nine South Dakota tribes and of the Great Plains Tribal Chairs Association.
Located just outside the town of Pine Ridge, Red Cloud Indian School provides Lakota students with a high-quality, innovative education that honors and strengthens Native identity. Despite the harsh economic realities on the Pine Ridge Reservation—the per capita income is less than $8,000 and six in ten children live in poverty—Red Cloud’s unique curriculum allows students to pursue their dreams of higher education. More than 95 percent of Red Cloud gradates go on to college or post-secondary training. This year Red Cloud launched the nation’s first comprehensive K-12 Lakota language curriculum and an innovative Economic Development Initiative—programs aimed at supporting the economic and cultural resiliency of the Lakota people.
Red Cloud President Fr. George Winzenburg said meeting Weiland helped students imagine a fulfilling and meaningful career in public service.
“We were thrilled to have Rick here to talk about public service—as an institution with strong Jesuit roots, service is a value we stress each and every day,” said Winzenburg. “Most of our students are going off to college after graduating from Red Cloud, working to support their community and give back to their people. Rick encouraged them to see that, even in the face of tremendous economic challenges on the reservation, they have the power to create positive change.”