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Keeping the faith for the generations to come

  • Photo credit:
    Little White River, South Dakota. Courtesy of Nora Antoine.


"We must be determined, strategic, and resilient in our efforts to provide a future where all of our children truly have opportunities to live their best lives..."

A very long time ago when I was in the 4th grade, I was enamored and truly impacted upon seeing my first Lakota teacher. She wasn’t even ‘my’ teacher per se, but she was the first professional role model who looked like me. Ms. White Hawk walked into our small school, head high — wearing high heels and donning long, polished nails. This jaw-dropping moment was frozen in time and we didn’t realize it at the time, but me and my classmates were witnessing a small snippet of history. Up until that moment in our small reservation-based school, nearly every teacher and ‘professional’ did not share our Lakota identity! 

During that time period, Ms. White Hawk was an anomaly and I can only imagine the barriers and challenges she encountered, and the strength she must have possessed to succeed in a district not designed for her, or for us. I’m pretty sure she didn’t even know my name, but I hope she saw the look of awe and admiration from me and my classmates. I hope too that the adoration in our eyes was something she remembered and, in some small way, our youthful and shy smiles helped to sustain her and the important and hard work she contributed to our district. Ms. White Hawk set in motion what was possible. She helped us dream beyond our current circumstances and to see a future that was made possible, because of her presence and her bold leadership! 

Changing the Faces of Leadership

Just a few months ago Kamala Harris was inaugurated as the first Asian and Black female Vice President of the United States; in the last few weeks, Deb Haaland was confirmed as the first American Indian to hold a cabinet-level seat as Secretary of the Interior; and most recently, Dr. Rachel Levine became the first transgender cabinet-level nominee for Assistant Secretary of Health. As adults, many of us hope these remarkable leaders feel our collective goodwill; but of more importance, we hope that young and impressionable children everywhere can see themselves in future leadership, and now know what is possible in their own lives. 

Today, especially in our hyper-polarized political environment, we know that good intentions and expressing well wishes alone are not enough. If we want the women we admire to succeed, if we want success to be more attainable and systemic, and if we want a more just and equitable world for future generations – we must be determined, strategic, and resilient in our efforts to provide a future where all of our children truly have opportunities to live their best lives. And, we need more women in leadership. I greatly appreciate the work Leadership for Educational Equity contributes to our nation of builders and change makers; and, like you, know there are so many women already working so hard and in so many wonderful ways. Now more than ever, we all need our networks of support so that as women in particular, we don’t carry the water and weight of change by ourselves.

As we wind down this month in celebrating Women’s History Month, I encourage you to remember and celebrate your own childhood champion and thank them for their leadership. I also encourage you to use what you can and do what you can to continue your good work in ways that align to your values. Amplify your leadership, and stay committed to persevering by pacing and taking care of yourselves.

Let’s all keep the faith and keep going!

Nora Antoine is the Director of Regional Impact of South Dakota at Leadership for Educational Equity. Her work centers around building community capacity, emphasizing leadership development, and community organizing to positively impact educational experiences within tribal lands including South Dakota communities.