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Kristi Eaton, Associated Press, Published January 27 2012

South Dakota students combat Native American stereotypes

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. – They’re powerful words routinely used to stereotype people living on American Indian reservations: poor, violent, alcoholic and obese.

Students at one high school on the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota, home to the Rosebud Sioux tribe, have one response: We’re more than that.

Behind the attention-grabbing headlines and pictures of reservation life, there’s a rich culture and sense of pride that often goes unnoticed, students from Todd County High School in Mission, S.D., said.

Students describe their life in a YouTube video with terms such as bravery, determination and love. The video was created to refute a recent “20/20” special, “A Hidden America: Children of the Plains,” which details the hardships of growing up on the Pine Ridge Reservation. According to U.S. Census statistics, Todd County, part of the Rosebud Reservation, and Shannon County, which is part of the Pine Ridge Reservation, are the second- and third-poorest counties in the nation.

In the special that aired last October on ABC, Diane Sawyer spoke with Robert Looks Twice, 12, who is the quarterback of his middle-school football team, a prize-winning powwow performer and dreams of becoming the first American Indian president. He lives in a dilapidated trailer with his grandmother, uncle and eight cousins. In another segment, Sawyer speaks with a 12-year-old girl who lives without heat and little food, and is dealing with her mother’s alcoholism. The girl tried to hang herself but survived.

After watching the “20/20” special, several of the students at Todd County High School worried that American Indian students were being incorrectly portrayed and decided to create a rebuttal, said Steve Elwood, assistant principal at the high school.

Instead of simply talking to the camera, the students – about 50 in total – came up with the idea of presenting one word that described a personality or character trait that would showcase what they do have on the reservation. The students shot, directed and edited the video, said Johnny Whirlwind Soldier, a 17-year-old senior.

The YouTube video, titled “More Than That,” has been watched more than 35,000 times since it was uploaded in December, and several of the students who created it have been invited to attend a national conference on Native American education issues.

Whirlwind Soldier is among six students traveling to Washington next month to present the video at the National Association of Federally Impacted Schools conference. NAFIS is a nonprofit organization created to educate Congress on the importance of federal aid.

The students will take part in a question-and-answer session about the video on Feb. 27 to share how they battle stereotypes.


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