Earth Day: Taking Care of Uŋčí Makȟá

Posted on: April 27, 2021

For the Lakota students at St. Joseph’s Indian School, taking care of Grandmother Earth – Uŋčí Makȟá – isn’t a one-day-per-year thing, but a daily spiritual commitment. Still, the grade-school students energetically embraced the event, planning and participating in several Earth Day activities.

Seventh- and eighth-grade students partnered with Native Hope at the end of the school day on April 22. They boarded buses and headed west to the tourist parking area across from Al’s Oasis and Buche Foods in Oacoma, S.D., to remove trash and debris defacing Uŋčí Makȟá’s beauty. Native Hope organized the day and clean-up supplies. They gave each student a t-shirt designed by local Native American artist Dennis Metcalf for their assistance and to commemorate regard for care for the planet. Grateful, too, for their effort to beautify the environment, Buche Foods met students for a photo opportunity and shared a snack jointly provided by the grocery store and Al’s Oasis.

“Look! I found a kiddie pool,” shouted one student. Steady rain didn’t dampen the students’ effort. They finished the job quickly and moved to the area surrounding the community pool in Chamberlain, S.D. By the end of the event, the students filled a garbage truck provided free-of-charge by Byre Brothers.

In another Earth Day effort, some seventh-grade students identified a desire to save the “functionally extinct” Australian koalas. They researched the Wildlife Warriors at Australian Zoo Animal Hospital, who are involved in care for the koalas orphaned, injured and without food because of the past year’s wildfires. Student LaRee Hardin observed, “Animals lost their homes and their families. That shouldn’t happen.” The class decided to charge staff and students a small fee to have their photo taken at the “koala photo booth” during the week. Staff pitched in to construct the booth, and the proud students surpassed their fundraising goal of $75 to earn more than $100 for the hospital.

Technology Instructor Gina McManus and Librarian Claire Nehring conducted an Earth Day scavenger hunt for students in fourth through sixth grade. One clue involved photographing a tree. Similarly, younger students, less savvy with the digital camera but clever with the Crayola, colored a tree picture. Staff submitted photos and coloring pages to Blue Dot Kids Press, which plants a tree for every image received. Uŋčí Makȟá and all of us will benefit from the added oxygen!