In the evening, after teaching at Little Wound High School, I worked with students in Prof. Joanne White Thunder's Introduction to Management class at the Kyle branch of the Oglala Lakota College.
Oglala Lakota College (OLC) was chartered in 1971 by the Oglala Sioux Tribal Council as the Lakota Higher Education Center. Before it became accredited by South Dakota agencies degrees were offered in conjunction with other colleges and universities. The College was accredited in 1983, when it took its current name. OLC has a "decentralized campus system" (OLC website, "History") with eleven "college centers" spread across the Reservation's nine districts, Rapid City, SD and Eagle Butte, SD (Cheyenne River Reservation). A total of approximately 1,400 students are enrolled at any given time.
In addition to attending classes at the nine centers, students may also participate virtually, accommodating long driving distances and difficult roads. The night I taught six students were present (and one very bright, young daughter who accompanied her mother) and one was linked in online.
In Kyle the college, Pejuta Haka, is housed in a cozy building next to a Head Start center. When I arrived for the evening class a table in the lobby had a Crock Pot of gravy, a plate of biscuits and a basket of apples, a simple dinner thoughtfully provided for busy students who often don't have time to get home before class. For Prof. White Thunder's class six students were present (and one very bright, young daughter who accompanied her mother) while an additional student was linked in online.
Dr. White Thunder's class covers curriculum that is familiar to me. The book she was using, Management Now (Ghillyer), is a standard text. And, as is standard in such texts, the word "capitalism" doesn't appear in the index (it should be somewhere between "capital expenditure budget" and "Capital One").
The students were a very astute and engaged group. Among them were experienced office workers, an aspiring auto repair shop owner, and a young woman from a small community which had lost its only food store. She spoke of her goal of opening a new store and of how her friends and neighbors were supporting her as she learned the management and other necessary skills she'd need.
After learning a little about their background and aspirations I introduced the Talking Capitalism model (regular readers of this blog will be forgiven for tiring of pictures of me standing at a whiteboard).
I was grateful to the students for their diligence in coming up with examples - from their lives - of the different elements of capitalism in the model. They shared anecdotes about, for example:
how work is social (and how interactions with co-workers can be gratifying or challenging.
the challenges of getting capital to invest (in the hoped-for community grocery store or car mechanic shop) when paychecks barely cover living expenses.
the importance of government services. On the Reservation most jobs are in the public sector (Federal, State and Tribal).
At the College I used the same handouts I'd used in the High School. I often start by telling students that when we talk about "economic systems" we're really talking about how we make and distribute the things we use to live - not graphs or equations.
At the High School earlier in the day I had been trying to get students thinking about the similarities and differences between capitalism and their experience of more traditional Lakota economic behaviors and norms. That was hard to do in the time with the younger students but the college students had a bit more to say in response to the questions I asked them to respond to at the end of the class.
I thought Desiree's point (above) that both capitalism and Lakota traditions "organize" a community was useful. She included "sweats, ceremonies and sundances" as well as prayer as ways the Lakota community is organized.
Angel (below), identified property ownership as both tribal, private and - traditionally - "No one". He noted, "what works well" he noted "N.A." for "what works well" in capitalism and "people work together" in the same category for Lakota traditions. As for "what doesn't work well", he highlighted the role of Tribal government in shaping the economy on the Reservation and the need for Tribal leadership to do better, or "more" for small businesses. (The need for Tribal leadership to be more effective at economic development was a point made by several people I spoke with during my visit).
Porfirio (the aspiring mechanic shop owner, below) described how in the Lakota tradition, "It is honorable for one to give away the items they own. At a funeral or pow-wow a family may have a give away, giving items such as blankets, baskets, etc." He also noted that in capitalism what "doesn't work well", is that "investors can take most of the profit for themselves".
Profirio's reference to the sharing that occurs at pow-wows reminded me of a flyer I'd seen in town announcing the annual buffalo kill (co-sponsored by Little Wound (the K-12 school) and Oglala Lakota College. The four-day sequence of activities described a similarly community-oriented "economic" activity (producing and distributing what people need). The concluding event, wacipi (often translated as pow-wow), "(meaning to dance and pronounced wa chee pi in the Dakota language) was originally an annual celebration where people would gather to sing, dance, renew old friendships, and form new ones. This was also an opportunity to honor individuals, conduct give-aways, hold naming ceremonies, and celebrate life. (South Dakota State University Native American Club).
It was lovely to work with Prof. White Thunder's class for an evening. The atmosphere in the classroom was focused and professional but also warm and supportive. It was clear that students and teacher respected each other. I was very impressed by these young people's seriousness and by the way they combined personal ambition with thoughtfulness about their community. I'm very grateful to Prof. White Thunder for giving me the opportunity to work with her class. I wish the students the very best as they move toward realizing their goals.