Students of Heather Hanson, Class of 2011, thought a recent ABC News story, “A Hidden America: Children of the Plains,” did not give an accurate depiction of the life of Native American children living on reservations.
They wanted to do something to help set the record straight and share the message that “we are more than that.” Heather teaches English and speech at Todd County High School in Mission, S.D., which is located on the Rosebud Reservation. The ABC story hosted by Diane Sawyer depicted how children in the Lakota Sioux tribe on the Pine Ridge Reservation struggle in the face of poverty, alcoholism and related issues.
“I watched the 20/20 special and many of my students did as well,” says Heather. “Then we watched the video in class and had a discussion about ‘single stories’ and what image we want to represent us when we get out into the world outside of the reservation.”
“Many of my students were upset by the ABC story but were not entirely sure how to respond,” she adds. “So, I gave them choices. They could write a letter to Diane Sawyer, make a video, or tell a story about some of the great things that we do here.” They decided to produce a video, which was scripted and filmed entirely by her students. The video can be seen at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FhribaNXr7A&feature=share
Heather thinks it is important for her students to present their side of the story, because they have a voice that needs to be heard. “They live here, they know what goes on. This is their hometown and this is their life. Diane Sawyer cannot capture the pride of the Lakota people in 45 minutes and she cannot voice what my students have to offer because one year will never beat a life time of rising above.”
“There are many negative statistics circling the reservations yet there are still people who are proud of who they are and where they are from, which they should be,” says Heather. “The American Indians are a proud people with a strong past that has been stifled by so many people and I personally am tired of people not listening to my students when they say, ‘I am more than that.’ I think they need to let the world know that this is their hometown and though negatives are here, there are negatives everywhere and those negatives do not define who you are. They want to succeed and they need to tell people that.”
“They did a wonderful job with the video and have gained back an enormous sense of pride,” adds Heather.