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Bridgeport, CT, 06605
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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.

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Student Work from Connecticut Writing Project 2017


student work from the 2017 connecticut writing project

Five exceptional young women - Sunni, Juanita, Erika, Ashantii, and Autumn - from the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe Reservation in South Dakota, along with their high school teacher, Mrs. Kelly Bessette, spent two weeks this summer in Connecticut. They were the winners of an essay contest hosted by Simply Smiles and the Connecticut Writing Project at Fairfield University, an affiliate of the National Writing Project. Below is the work that they produced during their experience.


Ashantii Blackbird

The Status of the Lakota Language

Our language is in danger. Not only are Lakota speakers becoming fewer in number, they are also becoming older. In 1993, the median age was for a Lakota speaker was over 50 years old. These existing speakers are dying and are not being replaced by new Lakota-speaking generations. According to our recent analysis, the language stopped being transmitted during the mid-1950s. Our effort to reverse this language shift relies on creating new generation of Lakota speaking while there are still native speakers available to be teachers. 

Locally, we can’t even find a Lakota teacher -- it’s awful. Lakota people have a deep interest in preserving and using our language. We actively practice our religion and culture in ever increasing numbers. Knowledge of our language is an important part of this trend. The LLC language revitalization is strategy is focused on creating a new generation of Lakota speakers. 

Most of our language and culture was taken away from us in the past, but we fought and stood up for ourselves and got some of it back. Know when people see us in public they get all surprised and ask us if we still live in tipis and hunt buffalo. But how can we hunt buffalo when they shot most of them dead, saying, “One buffalo is one indian dead." And how can we live in tipis when they burned them to the ground and forced us to live in boarding schools? Our lives haven’t been easy, but it’s gotten a little better. 

Lakota is dangerously close to extinction. Recent linguistic surveys and anecdotal evidence revealed that there are only 2,000 first-language lakota speakers remaining on and around the reservations of North Dakota and South Dakota. This number represents less than 2% of the total Lakota population. Today, the average Lakota speaker is 65 years old. Less than 2% of the total Lakota population speak the language.


Autumn shaving


Through My Eyes

The beauty of trees

The cool evening air

The wonderful smell of rain


The alluring sky when the sun sets

The way the green grass grows

The view can go for miles until the light fades


The freshness in the morning

The sun shining bright in the sky

The sunflowers being awakened by the light


The peacefulness in the country

The howling coyotes

The faintness of the stars


The wheat fields that stretch forever

Horses with their new colts

The roaming buffalo


This is where I am from

This is who I am

This is what I am proud to be.



When buffalo run it sounds like thunder

It didn’t stop the men who came to plunder

The buffalo stand tall and strong

An animal that has been here for so long

They’re an animal hardly anyone sees

They’re slowly dying, a white man’s disease.

Our language is also slowly dying

It’s like the people have stopped trying

It is now up to this generation

What we need now is a language resurrection

To bring back our language and our way of life

It is worth any price and any strife.


Erika miner

Running with My Nature

Running with my nature,

Proud to be me,


Native American, not Hawaiian or Alaskan,

But Sioux, I do me…you do you.

American Indian, First Nation,

Indigenous, indigenous no matter where I go…

Proud of my language

Tiospaye, my family,

Ina, my mom, Ate, my dad…

Unci, my grandmother,

Who cares for us all (& teaches us our stories).

We have our own way of living,


Like the Sundance,

The ceremony during the summer,

Honoring people,

What they did and deserved,

Girls in skirts, boys in ribbon shirts,

Colorful as the drums

The heartbeat of our people.

The Powwow,

Wachipi, beyond the dogs howling

And the way they perceive us.

Grass dance,

Men finding new locations

Where the green is tall

And the feet mat it down,

Fancy dance,

A jingle dress,

Tobacco cans that make music,

As knees and arms move,

Traditional dance

Of elders making their way around

the powwow grounds

To give and earn respect.

The sweat lodge…

Prayers for others and ourselves,

Steamy hot, dripping sweat

To spiritually cleanse

Our hearts, minds, and worlds.

S. Dakota dry lands,

Big hills, coyotes howling at night

With cows mooing in the darkness

By the farm down the road,

With so many stars in the night sky.

Proud to be me,


Native American, not Hawaiian or Alaskan,

But Sioux, I do me…you do you.

American Indian, First Nation,

Indigenous, indigenous no matter where I go…


Juanita romero

No DAPL: Water Is Life

The Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) is a pipeline that goes through the states of North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, and Illinois. When it is complete, it will go through the Mississippi River and the Missouri River. It will carry 570,000 barrels of oil a day, while creating 12,000 jobs in the area.

While creating jobs is good for the economy, it is not good to have oil in the water. The company building the pipeline is confident that it will not leak, but what if it does? For the Lakota people mni wichoni (water is life).  Without clean water to drink,  the 12,000 jobs created will mean nothing. 

The Sacred Stone Camp in Cannonball, North Dakota was established to protect the waters of the Missouri River that provides drinking water for the Lakota Sioux people of the Standing Rock and Cheyenne River Reservations as well as all communities along the Missouri River. Without clean water, the land will die. This includes the farms and ranches, the animals on those ranches, and the people that live there. 

At the Sacred Stone Camp, the water protectors set up a peaceful protest free from violence to protect the waters of Mother Earth. The protectors set up camp in June of 2016 and did not leave until May 2017. During this time of protest they faced rubber bullets, tear gas, police dogs, and even arrest.

If water - our life giving force - is not worth protecting, what is?


Sunni Rousseau

Rez Ball

On the reservation, basketball is a big part of everyday life. Kids learn to play basketball as soon as they are old enough to go to school.

Basketball is one of the things that brings people together. As a young kid, basketball starts as a fun game you play with friends. The friends you make will last a lifetime. At first it isn’t about the competition; it’s about having fun.

As you get older you begin to learn that it is more than just a game. Basketball requires skill, dedication, teamwork and practice. You learn to help teammates and you have the opportunity to create a new family both on and off the court. 

Basketball isn’t just a game on the reservation; it is also a tool that allows young and old alike to deal with the pressure that comes with living on the reservation.


In Resistance, Standing Against The Bull

The following is a poem written collectively by the five students from the Reservation:

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