First girls' school on Native reservation opens

In September, a group of Native American and non-Native educators and activists gathered on the Pine Ridge Reservation of the Oglala Lakota people in South Dakota to celebrate the opening of Pine Ridge Girls’ School (Anpo Wicahpi in Lakota), the first nondenominational independent college-prep girls’ school on any Native-American reservation in the United States.

The school was founded in part to respond to the epidemic of youth suicides that has plagued the reservation in the last few years and is grounded in Lakota culture and way of life.

“The school is already making a big difference, since girls who are both empowered in their own culture and know they are going to college, don’t have to end their lives,” says co-founder Victoria Shorr. “They have strength and hope.”

The school, which offers traditional college-prep courses, is starting with grades six and seven this year, with plans to add a grade each year so that the current seventh-grade class will graduate from Pine Ridge in 2022.

In celebration of its grand opening, the school hosted a Founding Open House, which included a drumming, a blessing, and a sage purification for the school and everyone in attendance. Honored guests included school council member Cheryl Crazy Bull, head of the American Indian College Fund; board member Paul Cummins, founder of Crossroads School for the Arts and Sciences (California) and New Roads School (California); board member Carole Goldberg, former vice chancellor and current Native law professor at UCLA; co-founder and board member Victoria Shorr, co-founder of The Archer School for Girls (California) and distinguished Lakota educator; and board member Ethleen Iron Cloud-Two Dogs with her husband, Medicine Man Rick Two Dogs, who led the blessing.