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Simply Smiles provides bright futures for children, families, and communities. The organization partners with populations in need to create physical and emotional environments where suffering is alleviated and from which local leaders can emerge.

Field Notes from the Reservation: Learning beyond the classroom

Simply Smiles blog

Follow our blog and read insights from Simply Smiles staff, volunteers and other individuals whose lives are affected by our work!

Field Notes from the Reservation: Learning beyond the classroom

Alex Gross

The latest Field Note is brought to you by volunteer Kayla Skaletski, a social work and sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point.

Today was a great day on the Cheyenne River Reservation with Simply Smiles. We started off the day with the Walk On! program, in which community members - both adults and children - joined us to walk around the school's track. The program seems to have a significant impact on the community, especially the elders.

When staff member Sam explained the significance of the daily mile, it truly showed the dedication of Simply Smiles to not only bringing the community together for another fun activity but also to encourage individuals to carry this healthy habit into other parts of their lives. It shows their commitment to fully enrich the community on every aspect of life from the inside out. 

Ages young and elder appreciate and enjoy the horseshoe pit. It's a place to pass down both traditions and skills. (A.Gross, La Plant, May 2015)

Ages young and elder appreciate and enjoy the horseshoe pit. It's a place to pass down both traditions and skills. (A.Gross, La Plant, May 2015)

The next experience that really stuck out to me was the opportunity to dig the trench by shoveling and bar-breaking the hard South Dakota dirt. I have never felt so good while sweating my butt off, and forming blisters on my hands. It was great because I knew that a very deserving family was going to benefit from my hard work for years to come. Every family has faced hard times, but the members of this community, and this family in particular, have truly faced every challenge possible. This family has been through so much due to historical trauma, economic hard times, continuous prejudice and discrimination by federal programs, and a broken community due to all of these barriers. I wish I could be here when the family finally gets to move in so I can see their priceless reactions of gratitude. 

As a senior undergraduate student with two majors in Social Work & Sociology and a minor in Child Youth Family Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, I have taken multiple classes in Native American Studies. Throughout these classes, I have had extensive classwork on Native American history and am familiar with the majority of massacres, battles, and broken treaties native peoples and their ancestors have faced.

While I am aware of this horrific history, I have never had the opportunity to experience the impacts of it, and see the challenges it continues to bring to the people in real life. While working with the adults and elders in the community and hearing their stories, I have started to understand history’s impact.

They speak about their current federal housing situations and how it continues to negatively perpetuate their lives. While they are grateful for the housing, it does not help them to live so closely to so many other struggling families. I originally thought it would assist them because of their ability to relate to each other, but I soon realized that how damaging it is because they cannot escape their challenges when they go home. Knowing that we will have the opportunity to help a family escape this continuous traumatic cycle makes all of the physical work more than worth it.

I have had a fun, memorable, and very educational trip so far, and I cannot wait to see what the rest of the week has in store.