They come to Iowa to get away from the bad influences back home, to receive a better education and to experience what life is like outside the confines of the reservation where they live.
Cameron Bordeaux, Daniel Bordeaux, Victoria Picotte and Kiana Roubideaux are all students from the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota who are attending Ballard High School. Brothers Cameron and Daniel are seniors, while Victoria is a junior and Kiana is a sophomore. These students came to Ballard through a program run by Cornerstone Church in Ames.
Life on the Rosebud Indian Reservation
The Rosebud Indian Reservation in south central South Dakota has a population of approximately 10,000 and is slightly larger in size than Rhode Island, according to the 2010 U.S. Census. The American Indian Relief Council’s website states unemployment on the reservation exceeds 80 percent at times. Poverty rates are high on the reservation, with the median household income slightly more than $19,000. Families often welcome extended family members into their home if they are in need of a place to stay, leading to overcrowding in some homes.
“It’s like the ghetto in some places,” Daniel said.
The reservation has high suicide and teen pregnancy rates. Substance abuse and alcoholism are also problems at the reservation, with young children using drugs and alcohol alongside their parents. Cameron said it’s “normal” for the people on the reservation to deal with death on a regular basis due to the high suicide rates, crime and drunk- driving accidents. The students agreed that the first couple of times, having people they know pass away is hard, but after a while, they get used to it.
School-aged children often do not attend school for a number of reasons - some stay home and care for younger children while parents or guardians are off at work, while others are pressured by friends to skip school. The four students said there is a juvenile delinquent center on the reservation and students are tracked down if they have not attended school in several days. It even goes as far as issuing warrants for students who have not been attending school. Once students turn 18, however, all of that changes.
“Once you’re 18, they don’t care if you don’t go to school,” Daniel said.
Offering students a better education, life
Ames’ Cornerstone Church members began going on mission trips to the reservation nine years ago. In addition to going on the mission trips, Roger and Lisa Wheeler, along with their family and other families from the church, have made additional trips throughout the year to the reservation to serve meals during the holidays. Seeing the hardships youth faced, the Wheelers and their Cornerstone Church family decided they wanted to provide Rosebud youth with an opportunity to receive a better education and a chance to get off the reservation.
“We just have a heart for Rosebud and the people there,” said Nic Wheeler, Roger and Lisa’s son. Nic has taken over the coordination of the program from his father and now organizes the week-long trips junior and high school students take to Rosebud to attend Bible camps.
Through Cornerstone’s program, Rosebud students voluntarily sign up, with parental permission, to attend school in Iowa. Rosebud students have enrolled in not only Ballard’s schools, but also in the Ames, Gilbert and Nevada school districts. Nic said the schools have been “pretty positive” about the program, particularly Ballard.
“They see our vision for what we’ve been trying to do and realize it’s a positive thing,” he said of the Ballard schools.
While attending school, the students stay with families from Cornerstone who volunteer to serve as host families. This year one of the host families is not a member of the church. Not only does the program make a positive impact in the lives of the students, but also the lives of the host families, Nic said.
Mark and Kate Ehresman of Huxley, along with their four children, have been Cameron’s host family for three years. They agreed to become a host family as a way to give back since God has given so much to them.
“It’s gone very well for our family,” Kate said. “It’s lots of fun to see the kids interact with Cameron as if he were their brother.”
“At first it didn’t feel like he was a part of the family,” admitted the Ehresman’s 9-year-old daughter, Mya. After a while, though, the pranks began and the five youth in the Ehresman family quickly bonded.
Tim and Amber Van Loo, also of Huxley, have hosted Kiana for the past two years. Amber said Kiana has not only been a “great big sister” to the couple’s five children, but she has also opened up the family’s hearts.
“She’s just shown us that we can love another person,” Amber said. “We tell her she’s stuck in the family.”
Sometimes it’s hard finding host families who are willing to take in a Rosebud student. Nic said they have students who want to come to Iowa, but can’t because there are not enough host families.
“It takes a huge step of faith to be willing to open up your house,” Nic said.
Life in the Ballard community
The Ballard school district has been hosting students from Rosebud for the past 5-7 years, said Ballard High School Principal John Ronca. While many of the students have been middle school-aged or older, some have even been elementary-aged. Typically the older students handle being away from their families better than the younger students and are more likely to stay at Ballard longer, Ronca said.
All four students said they chose to participate in Cornerstone’s program in order to better themselves. For Daniel, he had already been arrested and sent to the juvenile detention center 14-15 times for fighting and selling drugs.
“I could see if I stayed there, I’d just keep getting arrested,” Daniel said.
When the students came to Ballard - Cameron during his sophomore year, Daniel during his junior year and Victoria and Kiana during their eighth-grade years - they immediately noticed how clean the school buildings were and the lack of violence, unlike the schools where they came from. It did not take the four long to form friendships and get involved in extracurricular activities.
“Once you’re through the front doors, you’re one of us,” Ronca said of how the Rosebud students are welcomed into the Ballard family.
Ronca said all four students are doing well in school. He admits there have been times when the students need to be disciplined, but after talking to them, he usually is able to help them straighten out a situation.
“I’m really proud of these kids,” Ronca said.
The ultimate goal of Cornerstone’s program is to have Rosebud students graduate from a high school in Iowa. This year will mark a first for Ballard’s involvement in the program - Cameron and Daniel will walk across the stage during commencement ceremonies and receive a high school diploma.
“It’s a big thing to have a high school diploma,” Cameron said.
After graduation, the brothers plan to attend Des Moines Area Community College. Cameron will study building trades and business, while Daniel is undecided.
While the brothers serve as proof of the program’s success, the program is not for all students. Some have returned to the reservation after their first year of school, while others have gone back after only a month.
“The ones who are attracted to the program realize the hopelessness and how they will be affected if they remain (at the reservation),” Nic said. “The students see the cycle and are looking for ways to get out of it.”
Victoria said she does not want to live at the reservation after she finishes high school and college for fear of returning back to her old habits and getting involved with the wrong people again.
“If you live there, it takes ahold of you and you’re not able to leave,” Victoria said.
For Mark and Gina Baker of Huxley, who are hosting Daniel, they hope Daniel’s time at Ballard opens his eyes to what life could be like outside the reservation.
“We want Daniel to see there’s a different way of living and that he can be safe and not have to put up with everyday things he would have to at the reservation,” Gina said.
Rosebud Indian Reservation statistics:
Population - 10,869 (2010 Census)
Owner occupied housing - 45.4%
Renter occupied housing - 54.6%
Education - High school diploma - 32.4%
Some college no degree - 24.1%
Associate degree - 5.6%
Bachelor’s degree - 6.9%
Master’s/Professional/Doctorate degree - 4%
Median household income - $19,046
*Source: South Dakota Department of Tribal Relations website
Goals of the Rosebud program:
-help students graduate from high school
-preach the gospel to them
-experience what a Christ-centered family is like
-form friendships and see what a community outside of the reservation is like
-step out on faith and show an increased dependence on God to provide needs