South Dakota State University was founded in 1881 and gained land-grant status in 1889, and with it the mission to provide access and opportunities for anyone to pursue the benefits of education. While 9 percent of South Dakota’s population is identified as American Indian or Alaskan Native, less than 1 percent of the state’s largest university student body represents this demographic. This disparity is consequential for those enrolled in South Dakota’s tribes, the university and the state-at-large.
The Wokini Initiative will offer 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. The initiative will also enhance research and outreach collaborations and programs with tribes, tribal colleges and other tribal organizations in the state.
The Wokini Initiative will align opportunities for students to pursue degrees that will impact the students, their communities and their tribes while recognizing the importance of family and culture. South Dakota State University offers more than 180 majors, minors and specializations—providing endless possibilities to create knowledge, unique partnerships with tribal colleges and a collaborative environment that will benefit everyone and establish priorities between tribal communities, the tribal members and the rest of the state.
Majors in nursing, counseling, early childhood and secondary education, range science, wildlife and fisheries sciences, community and regional planning, computer science, architecture, civil and mechanical engineering, construction management, electrical engineering, food science, health education are just some of the programs offered at SDSU.
Wokini supported students will be given the resources and access to academic, personal, health and financial wellness knowledge needed to succeed at South Dakota State University and in life after graduation.
The initiative will help students overcome obstacles and anxieties that exist concerning attending college by providing financial assistance to help pay for college and some of the basic personal needs associated with living on a college campus. Mentorship will be a key component of Wokini, helping students and their families understand the path to college and overcome concerns that may exist. The program will help students adjust to a new environment on the SDSU campus while maintaining family and cultural values and connections that already exist.
Funding for the Wokini Initiative will be through private donations to the SDSU Foundation and revenue generated by land as part of the South Dakota Permanent Trust Fund. Much of that land exists in the western part of the state and was claimed in 1887 by the federal government as part of the Dawes Act, assigning 160,000 acres to the state of South Dakota to support its new land-grant college and agricultural experiment station.
The trust was established at statehood with the intent of providing a continuous source of revenue for public schools, universities and endowed institutions. The revenue comes from interest generated in the fund on land that was either sold or is being leased and is used for base funding purposes. The fund’s principal can be increased, but never diminished.
In 2016 SDSU had $548,451 returned to the university from the trust fund, money that can benefit enrolled tribal members to support educational opportunities and growth and serve as a catalyst for a sustained source of program funding.
SDSU staff and faculty will collaborate and consult Dakota and Lakota members of tribal communities, tribal leaders and the four tribal colleges in South Dakota to support educational opportunities and growth to make the Wokini Initiative a success.
The Wokini Initiative will have programming on the SDSU campus, as well as throughout the state.
Examples of on-campus programs include:
• Support programs and expanded network structured to prepare, attract, enroll, retain and graduate enrolled tribal members at SDSU;
• Scholarships for American Indian students;
• A new American Indian Student Center; and
• Preservation of language and art, two critically important aspects of the Lakota and Dakota cultures.
Off-campus Wokini programming may include:
• Collaborative research projects focused on needs of native communities;
• Adult leadership development programs designed around the structure and function of tribal governments to improve economic development within tribal communities.
The Wokini Initiative is designed to support existing programs at SDSU while allowing for the creation of new programs and partnerships.