Pine Ridge Road Trip

On November 24 and 25, 2015, over the fall semester break, the Little Shop of Physics (LSOP) teamed up with several groups to bring our hands-on science program to around 850 students at two schools on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. We were joined by the Colorado State University Native American Cultural Center (NACC) and a group of students and educators from Oglala Lakota College (OLC) which is based on the Reservation. Additionally we were joined by a group of student volunteers from Northwest Passage, an alternative high school in Minnesota, as part of their experiential learning program.

On Monday, we set up at Wolf Creek Elementary School, located in a rural area just outside of the city of Pine Ridge. The school is almost exclusively attended by Native Americans, and it is the largest elementary of the Reservation. On Tuesday we set up at Oelrichs, a K-12 school located just off of the Reservation, with over a 90% Native American student population.

 After spending 45 minutes to an hour exploring our 100+ hands-on science experiments, every student received in their classrooms a science-at-home kit. The kits contains chromadepth glasses, reusable hand warmers, inflatable air bags, UV bracelets, thermal pencils, colored pencils, reaction time rulers and thunder sticks. The kits were presented by members of OLC and NACC, and students were given information about attending and financing an education at Colorado State University and Oglala Lakota Community College.

One of the key factors in the success of the Pine Ridge Trip is the relationship that LSOP has fostered with different groups, both on and off the Reservation. Since 2008 we have been visiting Pine Ridge and coordinating with OLC and NACC, and over time we have become partners in outreach, rather than simply being outsiders. Two years ago, LSOP reached the milestone of visiting every school on the nearly 3,500 square mile Pine Ridge Reservation. In recognition of that, the Oglala Sioux Tribal Council issued a decree declaring annually that the fourth week of the month of November would be Oglala Lakota Nation Little Shop of Physics Week.

The Little Shop of Physics team had the opportunity to stay at the Sacred Earth Lodge on the Pine Ridge Reservation. This large dormitory-styled residence is run by Henry Red Cloud who is the direct 5th generation descendant of Chief Red Cloud, one of the last Lakota war chiefs and one of the most famous Native Americans in history. Henry Red Cloud also runs Lakota Solar Enterprises, an internationally recognized organization with the goal of bringing economic opportunities to the Reservation while helping those who live there to have a more sustainable lifestyle mirroring the traditional Lakota relationship with Mother Earth. As Henry says, “This is a new way to honor the old ways.” Henry Red Cloud was recently featured in the documentary This Changes Everything, and he offered the Little Shop of Physics crew a private screening in the Sacred Earth Lodge. Afterwards, he had dinner with us and discussed the film.

Check out all of our photos from Wolf Creek Elementary and  Oelrichs School.