"In the Dakota language, there is no word for 'child' or 'children.' Instead, there is 'wakanyeja,' which means 'sacred little ones,'" reported a local newspaper. The importance of that future generation was evident on the Spirit Lake Indian Reservation in North Dakota as we broke ground for a new Head Start facility. This was a special project to me as it embodies so well what we do at USDA Rural Development.
President Obama’s recent visit to North Dakota highlighted our tribal areas and opportunities for native youth. This project aligns with the President’s vision as well as being a strong validation of Secretary Vilsack’s StrikeForce initiative. The Secretary’s leadership has allowed us to further identify issues in areas of persistently high poverty, which cultivated the ensuing meetings that helped make this project a reality.
Scattered across the tribal reservation, currently 11 Head Start classrooms are housed in mobile trailers that are no less than 30 years old. The rooms are in need of great repair and one was recently condemned due to air quality issues. With one kitchen preparing the children’s meals, buses are used to deliver the food to all the Head Start locations.
Recognizing that the system is inefficient and that the children need a safe and healthy environment to learn, Cankdeska Cikana Community College is utilizing the USDA Community Facilities loan program leveraged with a Head Start grant to construct the new building. The project will bring all of the Head Start classrooms under one roof as the facility will accommodate up to 175 children, ranging from infants to 6-year-olds.
I’ve always believed that the best investments we can make as a society are the ones that benefit our children - our wakanyeja - now and for the little sacred ones generations to come.