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Students to digitize Reifel Papers as part of Wokini grant

Representative Ben Reifel wearing a hat and standing in front of  the capitol building in Washington, D.C.
The Ben Reifel Papers held by the SDSU Archives will be digitized by two American Indian students as part of a Wokini Challenge grant awarded to Briggs Library. Here, Representative Reifel stands in front of the capitol building in Washington, D.C. (SDSU Archives photo)

A new grant is allowing the SDSU Archives and Special Collections to expand not only a digital collection, but to also broaden the skills and experience of two students.

This summer, the Archives was awarded an SDSU Wokini Challenge grant for the project “Experiencing a Lakota Collection: American Indian Student Assistants in the SDSU Archives.”

Through this grant, the Archives will hire two American Indian student assistants to digitize the Ben Reifel Papers during the 2018–2019 academic year. Students will learn archival, preservation and digitization skills as they prepare and organize resources, scan materials and write descriptions of the items. Materials to be digitized in this collection include correspondence (such as letters from U.S. presidents Gerald Ford, Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon), photographs, Reifel’s speeches and writings, press releases, campaign materials, 3D items, scrapbooks and awards.

“I am excited about working with the students to make the Ben Reifel Papers available online,” said Archivist and Special Collections Librarian Michele Christian. “It is through these opportunities that the University Archives can make an impact in the lives of students and reach out to the American Indian community in South Dakota.”

Using the digitized materials, the students will create online and physical exhibits to present at the 25th Annual American Indian Cultures and Histories Conference at SDSU. Duplicates of the students’ physical exhibit will be given to South Dakota tribal college and university libraries. The digitized items will go into the Digital Library of South Dakota (http://explore.digitalsd. org) and the national Digital Public Library of America (, making Reifel’s collection easily accessible to tribal colleges and universities, tribal historic preservation offices, and researchers worldwide.

The grant is part of the Wokini Initiative announced by President Barry Dunn in January 2017, which offers “programming and support to enrolled members of the nine tribal nations in South Dakota interested in gaining access to educational and advancement opportunities at South Dakota State University,” according to an SDSU release. “The initiative will also enhance research and outreach collaboration and programs with tribes, tribal colleges and other tribal organizations in the state.”

Reifel (Sicangu Lakota) was born on the Rosebud Indian Reservation. He graduated from South Dakota State College in 1932. His accomplishments include being the first Lakota elected to the U.S. House of Representatives (serving from 1961-1971) and a distinguished career with the Bureau of Indian Affairs.