Crow Ceeek Tribal School breaks ground on facilities

By Melanie Brandert
Stephan, South Dakota (AP) June 2010

Claps of thunder from an approaching storm couldn’t dampen the enthusiasm at the Crow Creek Tribal School recently as officials broke ground on a new $35 million school and dormitory.

Those involved with the project said it marks a renewed sense of spirit for school officials, staff and students that began with the opening of a new gym last year. They wore T-shirts bearing an image of the new school and the text “Build It and They Will Come” and “School of Dreams.”

Superintendent Silas Blaine credited past and present school board members for their determination in advocating for a new school.

“This weather will not stop the Crow Creek Chieftains from the long-awaited day,” he said. “If it was not for their persistence, we would not be here celebrating this day today.”

The school has encountered more than its share of strife in recent years.

The state fire marshal’s office condemned the entire Stephan campus in 2004 after the Bureau of Indian Affairs deemed it unsafe. Then, in April 2005, the school’s dormitory that housed 230 students was destroyed by fire.

After that, then-Superintendent Scott Raue was among those convicted following charges of theft, bribery and money laundering in connection with reconstruction efforts at the school.

In recent years, much of the school has been housed in temporary, modular buildings on campus.

The new K-12 building will be built around the school’s gym, which opened last May. A dormitory and housing for five staff members will be built north of the gym. School officials will move into the new buildings – which are being funded with federal economic stimulus dollars – in January 2012.

Jeff Swanson, the master of ceremonies, recalled the trying events of the past but also noted achievements that have occurred in the past year. The first high school graduation and powwow took place in the new gym, and the boys’ and girls’ basketballs teams had successful seasons.

“You can see how much a gym can do for students and do for morale for our staff,” he said.

Duane Big Eagle, newly elected Crow Creek tribal chairman and school board president, recalled during the ceremony how school officials lost an opportunity for a new school in 1980 when a new one was built at a tribal school in North Dakota instead.

After the Crow Creek campus was condemned, Big Eagle remembered how he met with BIA and other federal government officials in Albuquerque and Washington, D.C., to request financial help to allow for construction of at least a gym. He noted that the effort took a lot of teamwork.

“We are looking at the reality of something we can live with for the rest of our lives,” Big Eagle said.

Students, staff and some community members shook the hands of project officials and school board members while the Dakota Boys performed an honor song with drums.

Monte Sazue, a talented and gifted program teacher for three years, said the project excites him as a faculty member, and he looks forward to when the school and dorm will be completed. The school has about 460 students.

“It feels good,” he said. “It’s going to bring a lot of students back to Crow Creek, because we lost a lot of students enrollment-wise because of the dorms.”

Work will begin in the coming weeks on the new buildings.