Discovering Impact: Indigenous LEE Members Driving Change in South Dakota

In South Dakota, the challenges faced by Native American children in accessing quality education and resources are deeply concerning. Educational inequities persist, affecting their overall well-being and future opportunities. However, amidst these challenges, there are inspiring individuals who are actively working to make a difference. 

In this blog, we shine a light on three dedicated LEE members who are Indigenous people of South Dakota making an impact in their communities. Through their relentless efforts, they strive to create positive change and improve the lives of Native American children in the state and beyond.

View the latest Native Education State Profile for South Dakota

Understanding the Inequities:

To comprehend the significance of the efforts made by Indigenous LEE members, we must first grasp the magnitude of the disparities faced by Native American children in South Dakota. Numerous scholarly studies have highlighted the stark differences in educational attainment, access to resources, and opportunities between Native American students and their non-Native peers.

According to the National Indian Education Association (NIEA), Native American students consistently score lower on standardized tests, face higher dropout rates, and are less likely to attend college compared to other ethnic groups. Moreover, limited access to quality educational facilities, culturally relevant curricula, and experienced teachers further exacerbate these challenges.

Despite the obstacles, our featured Indigenous LEE members have demonstrated an unwavering commitment to addressing these inequities.

Jessi Bean, 3rd - 5th Grade Teacher, Intermediate Team Leader, Míla Háŋska Tȟašúŋke Owáyawa (American Horse School)

Jessi Bean, 3rd - 5th Grade Teacher, Intermediate Team Leader, Míla Háŋska Tȟašúŋke Owáyawa (American Horse School)

In 2019, Jessi moved to Allen, South Dakota, on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, where she began teaching at the American Horse School. She has taught math, social studies, science, and Lakota culture, and is currently teaching 3rd-5th grade social studies and science. She also serve as Intermediate Team Leader, working closely with the school's principal and administration on behalf of her students and community. Her biggest goal as an educator is to ensure that her students see themselves reflected within their teacher and their classroom. She wants her students to know who they are, the strong communities and ancestors that they come from, and to always be proud of their history. 

Since starting at American Horse, she has implemented a school wide culture week, helped plan other cultural events for students, and worked closely with their Lakota language teacher to ensure students get the most out of their cultural education. 

In her classroom, her students use the Lakota language every day. They say their morning affirmation in Lakota, use Lakota classroom commands, do a daily weather report in the language, and conduct themselves using the Lakota values. She has found that even doing something as simple as wearing a ribbon skirt to work every day excites her students and helps them feel connected to who they are. In addition to her work at school, she teaches ribbon skirt workshops and Lakota language classes within her surrounding community.

Matte Wilson, Sicangu Co, Food Sovereignty Director 

Matte Wilson, Sicangu Co, Food Sovereignty Director 

Matte Wilson is a citizen of the Sicangu Lakota Nation. He is the Food Sovereignty Initiative Director at Sicangu Co, an Indigenous Ecosystem focused on transforming systems on the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota. Matte and the Sicangu Food Sovereignty Initiative (SFSI) team work towards creating a holistic and regenerative food system. SFSI manages a 1-acre teaching and production farm focused on developing small-scale and regenerative agriculture models; they host a seasonal farmers market; develop farm-to-school models; facilitate a farmer apprenticeship program; and distribute local food boxes to increase food security for families. 

In addition to his work at Sicangu Co, Matte is a co-chair with a community organizing body, 4Rosebud. 4Rosebud is a collective of educational and community leaders who work to strengthen educational outcomes for youth and families. Matte and 4Rosebud launched the Wicozani Task Force in early 2023, with the goal of understanding barriers and opportunities relating to healthier food options, as well as increased mental health services at one of the local school districts 4Rosebud.

The inequities faced by Native American children in South Dakota require urgent attention and collective action. The Indigenous LEE members featured here exemplify the determination and resilience needed to effect positive change. By promoting culturally inclusive education, addressing systemic barriers, and advocating for equitable resources, they are paving the way for a brighter future for Native American children in South Dakota.

As we recognize and support their efforts, we must also reaffirm our commitment to creating an education system that uplifts and empowers every student, regardless of their background. Together, we can make a lasting impact in the lives of Native American children and work toward a more just and equitable educational landscape.

If you are a LEE member who resides in South Dakota or are a Native Indigenous who wants to learn more about how LEE can help you achieve the impact you want to make in your community, please contact, Nora Antoine at or find a time on her calendar for to connect.

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