In 2016, the Lower Sioux Community and the Redwood Area School District co-hosted a cultural competence day for the entire staff of the local school district.

The event was such a success, it is being planned for this coming August, and this year the school district has an additional $5,000 it can use to help plan the event.

The funds were awarded to the school district by the Bush Foundation and the Native Nations Building Initiative through what is known as the annual local government innovation awards (LGIA) program, co-sponsored by the Minnesota Association of Townships, the League of Minnesota Cities, the Association of Minnesota Counties and the Minnesota School Boards Association. 

Each year awards are presented for innovation at the city, township, county and school level, with a fifth award added this year that recognizes innovation related to the Native Nations of Minnesota.

The local school district, in conjunction with the Lower Sioux Community, which also received a $5,000 gift, applied for the award.

As the overall winner of the award based on its efforts to create culturally-based resources and results for American Indian students, the school district and Lower Sioux Community pointed to the culture competence day as well as the recent joint effort between the school and the tribal council to develop a Dakota language class.

That class is currently being offered to students as a language option, and the funds received by Lower Sioux are going to be used to help develop that program.

Jackie Probst, Redwood Area School District Indian education program director, Holly Schmitt, Redwood Area School District Indian education staff member, Darcy Josephson, Redwood Area School District director of teaching and learning, and Darin Prescott, Redwood Area Board of Education member, talked about the innovation award at the Redwood Area school board meeting held Dec. 18.

“We are excited to know we have received the award,” said Josephson, who said Nora Murphy of the Lower Sioux Community contacted the school district about the award.

Prescott expressed his appreciation to the school staff for putting together the application for the award so quickly, as it was submitted in a matter of hours in order to meet a deadline.

A professional video explaining the efforts of the school working alongside the Lower Sioux Community was also created.

In that video, Prescott, who is a member of the Lower Sioux Community, said the relationship between the school and community has grown strong in recent years.

Probst added she believes the cultural competence day has opened up a dialogue in the school district, adding it has helped to empower the staff with more knowledge about the Native students they have in their classrooms. That, she added, is enhancing the relationships between staff the students.

In the video, Grace Goldtooth, a Lower Sioux Community member, recognized the fact that Redwood County has a sad history when it comes to cultures. The U.S.-Dakota War of 1862 led to people being forcibly removed, and in the aftermath generations of Dakota lost connection with their culture because they were forced to not speak their own language at boarding schools.

Prescott said having a Dakota language class that will be offered for course credit through the school district is a huge step for the community and for future generations of Native students.

According to Probst and Josephson, the efforts being made through the local school district are paying off, as it is closing its achievement gap between the American Indian student group and “all” students.

Probst added the local school district has a graduate rate among the Native students of 92.5 percent, which is much higher than the 51 percent state average.

The award was presented to RASD and the Lower Sioux Community at an event held at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota Dec. 7.

Josephson credits the success to the relationship between the school and the Lower Sioux Community to a strong Indian education program that is gaining a very positive reputation across Minnesota.