Delivering homework and meals by school bus: life of the Waldorf School on the Lakota Reservation

Von NNA staff

Although the inhabitants of the Lakota Pine Ridge Reservation in the USA have been under strict lockdown because they are at particular risk from coronavirus, the Lakota Waldorf School has continued its work by other means.

What has been the effect of the corona pandemic on the first Waldorf school for Native Americans on the Lakota Reservation in the USA and on the people of the reservation itself? The Lakota Foundation in Lucerne, Switzerland tells about it in its latest newsletter. The Lakota Waldorf School is located on the Pine Ridge Reservation in the state of South Dakota. It was founded in 1993 by a group of Lakota parents and takes its lead from the culture and language of the Lakota people – in contrast to state or church schools in the USA. The Lakota Waldorf Schools is supported by the Lakota Foundation.

LUCERNE (NNA) – All the schools in South Dakota closed on 13 March after many confirmed cases of COVID-19 there which kept on rising, the newsletter of the Lakota Foundation writes. Yet South Dakota remained one of the few states which refused to implement a “stay at home order”. But since the reservation was not subject to the legal sphere of South Dakota, the question remained for the Lakota Waldorf School what the Oglala Sioux tribal council would decide.

That same evening the tribal council decided that all schools on the reservation should close, including, of course, the Lakota Waldorf School. The tribal government under its president Julian Bear Runner took decisions which were a lot stricter and more emphatic than those taken by the governor of South Dakota, the newsletter continues. Thus a “stay at home order” was declared for the whole reservation.

That is understandable since many people live on the reservation who are among the groups most at risk. The population, for example, has an above average number of diabetics and people with heart disease. Their difficult life situations also mean that the immune system of the Lakota population is generally weakened, making them very vulnerable to the virus. Furthermore, many people live on top of one another on the reservation in small mobile homes or with little living space, many of them without running water or electricity. This led to the fear that the coronavirus might spread rapidly in the reservation.

Then there was the additional factor that the medical facilities on the reservation leave a lot to be desired, as the Lakota Foundation reports. There is the IHS Indian Health Service on the reservation with two day-clinics and one small hospital in the main community of Pine Ridge. Currently there are only 140 tests available, four beds on the isolation ward and six ventilators – this for 40,000 inhabitants of the reservation. In addition, there was a shortage of doctors. The medical provision on the reservation was, therefore, “in no way prepared for any pandemic”.


“Until early April, the coronavirus was far removed from us. Since the location of the reservation is so remote, it took a long time until the virus reached us as well. Then the first case was confirmed, a single case,” the founder of the Waldorf school, Isabel Stadnick, reports. But since many people on the reservation don’t visit a doctor or, at best, go much too late, it is assumed that it is very likely that there are many more on the reservation who have fallen ill with the disease who have not been tested.

When the first coronavirus case became known on the reservation, the tribal government immediately ordered a two-week lockdown. This meant that no one was allowed to leave their home apart from so-called “essential workers” who also included school staff. The borders of the reservation were guarded and every car arriving or leaving was stopped. Residents on the reservation were only allowed to cross the border on vital and urgent business such as buying food. People not living on the reservation were refused access unless they worked in the health or social services, etc.

On the reservation itself, only those people were allowed to leave their home who had urgent and necessary work to do. That includes the staff to keep schools running, prepare work for pupils to do at home, send out lunch parcels, etc. But they have to apply to the tribal government for a pass.

Keeping going

How, then, die the Lakota Waldorf School respond to these measures?

“Before the schools had to close, we already taught the children how to wash their hands extra well and the teachers repeated this hand washing ritual several times every day,” the Newsletter says.

After the tribal council decided to close the schools, the Waldorf School set itself the following priorities:

-       All recommendations of the CDC (Centre for Disease Control) will be followed to stop the virus spreading.

-       Education for the pupils must continue without a break. The teachers prepare a weekly learning packs with tasks which the bus drivers deliver to the children’s homes and then collect again. In addition, online lessons are offered.

-       The children are also supplied with daily meals. The lunch packs contain sandwiches with cheese, salad, sometimes a few cold cuts, combined with vegetables such as carrots, an orange or an apple. Once a week there are burritos (a filled tortilla).

Teachers, bus drivers and the office staff of the school were not to be made redundant but were to be enabled to continue to work. As the Newsletter says: “We are using this time at the Lakota Waldorf School to spruce up our school rooms and premises and clean everything thoroughly. We have spent a lot of time in the garden and planted seedlings in the school garden and our 27-metre-long greenhouse. We are planning for the future and look forward to late summer and the autumn when we will be able to bring in a large harvest with our pupils.”

This year, the Lakota Waldorf School will celebrate its first class 8 graduation. “We are determined to make this an unforgettable event. We don’t know yet how we will do it, but it is a milestone in the history of our school and we will celebrate it as such, without of course creating any health risks.”

Supporting Lakota education

The history of Waldorf education on the Pine Ridge Reservation started in 1989 when Isabel Stadnick, a Swiss national, decided to stay there on her travels. She married the Lakota Bob Stadnick with whom she had three children. In the eight years until his death they both worked for a better education for Lakota children and started with the development of the Lakota Waldorf School.

In 1997 Isabel returned with her children to Switzerland and founded the Lakota Foundation there in 2007. In 2008 the family went back to the reservation. Isabel’s daughter Caroline meanwhile works as a special needs and subject teacher at the school and her sister Celestine also works there as a teacher.

With the school closed, using online courses to teach her pupils got a positive response. “Sioux Dawn, mother of Johnny, told us after the first online Zoom class that her son had been really happy about seeing is teacher Celestine Stadnick again,” the Newsletter reports.


The Lakota Waldorf School can be supported with donations here.

Item: 200617-02EN Date: 17 June 2020

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Learning outdoors during the coronavirus pandemic.<br>Photo: Lakota Foundation