Kent State Salem Nursing Students Return to Pine Ridge Indian Reservation

Several students and faculty members from Kent State University at Salem began their fall semester with a trip to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in southern South Dakota, where they interacted with members of the Oglala Lakota Sioux tribe.

This was the fifth trip to the reservation by students from Kent State Salem, offered through a transcultural nursing course that focuses on advancing cultural humility. Sixteen nursing students, along with two students from the early childhood education program, were part of this cultural exchange, as well as six faculty members.

Lorene Martin, senior lecturer with the Kent State Salem Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree program, says the trips to Pine Ridge teach students tolerance and acceptance, while increasing their awareness about how social and economic issues impact healthcare.    

“It is so very important that nurses be culturally sensitive and strive toward cultural competence to provide holistic and culturally appropriate care,” she says. “The students can engage with a culture completely different from their own and gain a new sense of appreciation for the struggles that others face – struggles that directly impact the level of medical care they receive.”

The Pine Ridge Indian Reservation is home to about 40,000 people, half of whom are members of the Oglala Lakota Nation. The average income for a resident of the reservation is between $2,600 and $3,500 a year, meaning that more than 97 percent of the residents live well below the poverty level.

While at Pine Ridge, the nursing students interacted with several tribe members who work and live there. The students worked with Indian Health Services at Pine Ridge Hospital, Kyle Health Center and with Public Health Nursing. They also toured a newly built long-term care facility owned and operated by the Sioux Tribal Counsel.

Nursing students observed school nurses at a county school system and provided education to four health classes at Pine Ridge High School, focusing on drug abuse and related issues.

Students from the Kent State Salem early childhood education program presented lessons and activities that taught handwashing basics to children in three schools, working with the Family and Child Education (FACE) program on the reservation.

A highlight for the Kent State representatives was visiting the Pine Ridge Dormitory, a residential facility where Lakota children, in kindergarten through high school, can live throughout the week so that they can attend school. Most homes are several miles from the school, making it almost impossible for families to transport their children to school each day. The dormitory allows students to regularly attend school, while easing the financial burdens for families struggling to provide food and safe shelter for their children.

The Kent State contingent played games and other activities with the Lakota children during the visit to the dormitory, but there was a great deal of excitement over the gifts presented.

“The Kent State students and faculty delivered over $1,400 worth of school supplies, coats, boots, gloves and other needed winter clothing to the children of the dormitory,” Martin says. “This was possible because of the generous donations by faculty, staff and students on the Salem Campus, as well as contributions from the community and the Trinity Presbyterian Church in East Liverpool. It was truly heartwarming to see how grateful the children were. The Lakota children received the gifts, but the thanks we received were much more meaningful to us and to our hearts.”

Traveling through South Dakota’s Black Hills and the Badlands provided students with additional insights about the geography of the region and the comparative value of lands available to the Lakota residents.

“Seeing the vast open areas of this region really helped our students understand how important it is to have reliable transportation so that the people can receive good healthcare and educational services,” Martin explains. “A minor medical condition or injury can turn into a serious health issue for a person simply because he or she cannot get to a doctor or hospital.”

The Kent State students also learned the historical significance of the Lakota people by visiting the Crazy Horse Memorial, the historical center at Oglala Lakota College and the Wounded Knee Memorial.

Nursing students on the trip were Brittany Sano, Stacie McMannis, Anthony Koch, Shamira Perez-Griffith, Delores Smith, Haley Knoedler, Caitlyn Seskey, Clayton Poteet, Margaret Haluska, Caitlyn Coler, Mackenzie Mulligan, Megan Gibbons, Erika Thomas, Jessica Seydlorsky, Conner Yeagley and Ashley Mesmer.

The early childhood education students were Beth Beverly and McKenzie Patterson.

Aside from Martin, faculty members on the trip were Mary Lou Ferranto, Ph.D., professor and program coordinator for the Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree program at Kent State Salem; Janeen Kotsch, senior lecturer of nursing; Phyllis DeFiore-Golden, senior lecturer of nursing; Tsunghui Tu, Ph.D., associate professor of early childhood education; and Celeste Oprean, Ph.D., assistant dean at Kent State Salem.

Planning is already underway for the next visit to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

“We can travel around the globe and find people who can teach us to be better nurses and better people through their struggles and conditions,” Martin says. “But we can also learn so much from these people who live in the United States and who ask for so little. These trips change us. And that change is for the better.

POSTED: Wednesday, December 7, 2016 02:36 PM
Updated: Thursday, December 8, 2022 08:13 PM