Native American students participate in cultural activities through Lawrence school district’s support program

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Out of the 574 federally recognized tribal nations in the United States, approximately 120 are represented within the Lawrence school district, Native American Student Services coordinator Kenny St. Pierre told school board members on Monday.

Students who participated in the program’s activities this year could express their cultures openly and proudly.

Native American Student Services (NASS) provides representation and support for students identifying as American Indian and Alaska Native, who make up approximately 5% of students in the district, according to the district’s website.

As part of the third quarter equity report administrators presented to the board during their meeting on Monday, St. Pierre, Ihanktonwan/Yankton Sioux, provided an update on NASS’s progress.

NASS this year has held activities for Native American students, including tutoring, basket weaving, dancing, community service, guest speakers, trips to Kansas State University and more.

“The idea behind the K-State trips is that we want our NASS students to envision themselves beyond high school,” St. Pierre said. “Whether that be college, tech school, the workforce, we just want our NASS students to feel like they have a purpose here in Lawrence Public Schools and then also when they leave the school building.”

Molly Adams/Lawrence Times Kenny St. Pierre, Native American Student Services coordinator (left), poses for a photo with Billy Mills on April 13, 2023.

Students have also been able to interact with Olympic gold medalist Billy Mills. Mills recently visited his namesake middle school in Lawrence and talked with the Intertribal Club, inspiring them to persevere through school, St. Pierre said.

NASS seniors will receive a special sendoff at the NASS graduation ceremony on Wednesday, May 17.

With the help of board member Carole Cadue-Blackwood, 41 eagle feathers have been gifted to graduating NASS seniors to wear during their commencement ceremonies, which St. Pierre said is the first time the district has done so for students.

Eagle feathers represent great achievement, Cadue-Blackwood shared.

“It’s the highest honor in our culture that one can bestow on someone,” Cadue-Blackwood said. “It says they accomplished something significant, and it’s something I feel very passionately about. My daughter and I pushed for legislation to get the regalia bill passed in 2019, and Kansas is one of the few states where students are allowed to wear the regalia to graduations.”

Carter Gaskins A student wears eagle feathers during Free State High School’s graduation, May 26, 2021.

As NASS continues to expand, Superintendent Anthony Lewis previously mentioned the possibility of moving NASS into the current Broken Arrow building when the elementary school closes next year, but he said during Monday’s meeting that those potential plans were still in the works and no location has been established yet.

St. Pierre expressed excitement about the potential to have a new location for NASS with more space and comfort for activities, however.

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Maya Hodison (she/her), equity reporter, can be reached at mhodison (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

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