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Bittersweet

May 2, 2012

It’s my second-to-last day at CDKC and my emotions are a bittersweet mixture of hope, satisfaction, and sadness.  Hope for the future, that my students will continue with their education and become role models for future generations of Cheyennes; satisfaction for the difference I’ve helped to make in the remedial math program at CDKC; and sadness for the fact that I must leave behind this job and this place I’ve come to love.

On my morning hikes up Charging Horse Hill, I’ve been reliving my four years in Lame Deer as I look out across the valley.  Peering north, I recall my first time in the saddle since leaving Pennsylvania as I rode towards town with a friend’s nephew, helping to deliver a horse for a give-away.  Facing east, I remember riding horseback over the Ashland divide with a group of veterans and their families on the First Annual Memorial Veterans Ride; I had participated in honor of my grandfather, a Korean War vet.  When we arrived in Ashland, the group of us rode our horses in a circle around the powwow arena, kicking off the first night of the Labor Day Powwow.  I also remember the many drives I took to the spring along Hwy 212 to fetch drinking water for my house.  Turning south over town, I recall my countless trips to the post office to pick up my mail and my many walks to the Trading Post to pick up milk and eggs; I’d always run into someone I knew and have a chat with the store clerk about how our colts were coming along in their training.  I also remember with affection the many game nights I enjoyed with the Arpans and how they always creamed me at Nerts!  Looking straight down the hill at the college, I recall the student senate-sponsored casino nights and handgame tournaments in which I participated, experiencing beginner’s luck in my first handgame when I single-handedly won all the sticks for my team.  Thereafter my luck ran out, but I sure had fun

After allowing my mind to wander back in time for a bit, I come back to the present and say a prayer for the reservation.  I pray that those who call it home may find ways to move forward without losing their historical identity.  I pray that tribal members and their representatives recognize the beauty and the potential of this place:  the potential for sustainable employment and housing through local construction cooperatives; the potential for local agriculture via community gardens; the potential for sharing Cheyenne culture (and earning some income) with the countless tourists who utilize Hwy 212 in the summer months.  I pray for an end to family feuds and age-old grudges, for Cheyennes–and all people–to come together and work for the common good, to realize that caring, sharing, and cooperating bring far greater rewards than shoring up resources for one’s own benefit.

God brought me to Lame Deer for a reason, and I willingly followed His call.  I wasn’t brought here merely to teach math but also to learn and to grow as a human being.  I’ve learned many lessons about the reality of reservation life, of what it means to be Indian, and of what it means to be white.  I’ve learned that the world sucks in a lot of ways for a lot of people but that all hope is not lost. And I’ve learned what every teacher needs to believe with all her being:  that every student can learn and succeed when the student is willing to work and the teacher is willing to try any and every method to reach each student.

I’ve felt incredibly blessed during the past four years to have a job that makes me excited to go to work every day.  Even my 240-mile roundtrip commute never made me dread Monday mornings—to the contrary, I looked forward to each new week, each new chance to help a student step over a hurdle, to learn something she didn’t think she could learn, to think to herself I CAN do math.  It has been very sweet working with students who push on with their educations despite having the odds stacked strongly against them.  I will miss them dearly, but I will always carry them with me in my heart.

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