Blaze Starkey, Defenders of the Water School

The Oceti Sakowin Camp in North Dakota is located along the proposed Dakota Access pipeline route and was created to protect the land, culture and the precious natural resources that sustain the Lakota, Nakota & Dakota citizens. Community members at the camp have been protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline as Water Protectors.

Since the camp was created, children have been residing there with their families. Even now, in the frigid winter temperatures, families continue to remain at the camp. In August of last year, the Defenders of the Water School was created to provide the kids with learning opportunities that engage them in the rich cultural traditions of their ancestors and elders and teach them about the world from the perspectives of their tribes. These include things like drum making and creating winter counts, tanned and painted buffalo hides which visually depict stories and events. The school is also focused on getting the students socially engaged in what’s happening around them right now and teaching them about the importance of preserving and protecting the rich natural resources of their land.


The school currently serves about 20 students, ages 6-14. The team of educators includes Blaze Starkey, a Lakota educator from Standing Rock and his colleagues, Alayna Eagle Shield, who founded the school, Teresa Dzieglewicz and Jose Zhagnay. They work with the students in several traditional structures, including teepees, a yurt and a longhouse. Due to the recent flooding of the Missouri River, they are in the process of moving the physical location of the entire camp, including the school.

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Although the camp is undergoing a transitional period, the school will continue and Blaze has big ideas for the kinds of things that the students could do this year. There are plans to introduce programming through Python. Instead of learning to program in English, the students would program commands in Lakota. They want to create more opportunities for students to come together with the adults in their community and work on projects to solve challenges across generations. Making the school run on entirely renewable energy is one such idea.

The Defenders of the Water School team are looking for individuals who would be interested in sharing their skills and knowledge with their students and have created a crowdfunding campaign to help raise funds. While the future of the Dakota Access Pipeline is still uncertain, what is certain is that the students and educators of the Defenders of the Water School  and their community have grit, determination and hope.


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