Cultural Exchange: Students Spend Spring Break on an Indian Reservation

Cristo Rey in Waukegan and Red Cloud Indian School in Pine Ridge, South Dakota are almost 950 miles and worlds apart. But both share common challenges. In Waukegan there is high unemployment, violent crime, struggling schools and few educational options. In the 2.8 million acre Pine Ridge Reservation of 40,000 people, it is the second poorest county in the United States with 80 percent unemployment and an infant mortality rate five times higher than the nation’s average.

Over Spring Break, 10 students from each school crisscrossed the country to spend two weeks – one in Waukegan and another on the Pine Ridge Reservation, becoming fast friends and sharing stories that define their unique Latino and Native American cultures. Together, they explored their separate worlds. When visiting Waukegan, they attended a Chicago Blackhawks game, packed food at Feed My Starving Children, visited the National Museum of Mexican Art and dined in family homes in Waukegan.

In South Dakota, they experienced a sweat lodge, visited Wounded Knee (the powerful symbol of survival and cultural persistence), learned the Lakota language, attended a school dance and traversed the Black Hills and explored Wind Cave.

Though the cultures are very different, the students returned home struck by the similarities and an intimate understanding of what it is like to walk in each other’s shoes, including having to deal with similar challenges in their state’s apart communities including racism and the pressures to learn English.

“What was very powerful is that the lessons were learned in the rich context of real-life relationships, getting to know each other, and not a textbook or a movie,” says Jim Dippold, director of campus ministry who had spent a total of eight years teaching at Red Cloud High School before coming to Cristo Rey in Waukegan.

The trip is one of three immersion and service trip CRSM is planning for this spring and summer including a trip to the Mexican Border and a trip through Young Neighbors In Action to St. Louis, MO.

“We’re hopeful that the immersion trips will help the students gain an increased awareness of different cultures and traditions, social justice in the parts of the country they live in and a glimpse at other people’s spirituality and faith,” said Dippold,. “Mostly we hope they enjoyed friendships and found a way to share their similar hopes and dreams together.”

The Chicago Tribune also covered this exchange in a recent article.