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Language Teacher's Actions Speak Loudly

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  • Language Teacher's Actions Speak Loudly

    Language Teacher's Actions Speak Loudly
    By Jomay Steen, Journal Staff Writer
    Rapid City Journal - 29 August 2006

    RAPID CITY, SD -- In his attempt to stem the wave of American Indian men and women being incarcerated in South Dakota prisons, jails and detention centers, Samuel John Around Him visited inmates, determined to create change.

    On Monday, the 64-year-old Lakota man, an Oglala Lakota College language teacher and Vietnam War veteran, was honored by Gov. Mike Rounds for 20 years of traveling throughout the state to help Indian prison inmates maintain their connection to their culture and heritage.

    By executive order, Rounds proclaimed Aug. 28, 2006, as John Around Him Day.

    Secretary Tim Reisch of South Dakota Department of Corrections read the proclamation honoring Around Him for his years of work in keeping the cultural heritage alive for those living in prisons and for training prison staff on cultural sensitivity.

    "The biggest impact has been with the inmates," Reisch said.

    Reisch said Around Him recently had given presentations on cultural awareness to senior staff members. But the most beneficial segment of his work has been his offering of pipe and sweat-lodge ceremonies to the Indian inmates, who constitute 24 percent of the prison population. Around Him also helped with spiritual and medicine-man conferences and served as master of ceremonies at prison powwows, Reisch said.

    "John is a valuable resource to the Department of Corrections staff by providing training for staff and serving as tribal liaison," he said.

    Sitting at a table at the front of a Oglala Lakota College classroom, Around Him used a white tissue to wipe away tears before he began to speak. Visibly frail, the audience strained to hear his voice.

    "I don't know when I will be called home, but I want you to continue on with my work. The students, they all need to learn. They will carry on; they will learn the words and the songs," he said of his Lakota language and ceremonial songs.

    He said he had looked after the inmates, never wanting to refer to them as bad people but relatives, who needed help, spiritual help and a new life.

    "We all have relatives who are in prison," he said.

    Around Him said it would be up to this generation to create change on the reservations so that when those relatives returned, they would be met with a better life and a better opportunity to succeed at home. "The changes have to come here," he said.

    "Make time to talk to our young; this is where they belong," he said in referencing the college classroom.

    He spoke of the difficulty of leaving the men and women behind locked doors, their sad facial expressions as they watch him walk away to return home.

    "It's sad to see them like that," he said.

    But Around Him was convinced that with enough care, love, support and guidance, it will "turn the tide of incarceration," he said.

    Austin Watkins Sr., Medicine Root District OST Council representative, gave Around Him a tribal flag. OLC President Tom Shortbull also awarded the OLC Lakota language teacher letters of recognition for preservation of the language.

    Shortbull said that Around Him had taken up where another great instructor, Calvin Jumping Bull, had left off.

    "John, you are truly a modern-day warrior," Shortbull said.

    "Be good, be kind, help each other."
    "Respect the ground, respect the drum, respect each other."

    --Abe Conklin, Ponca/Osage (1926-1995)

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