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BHSU graduate hopes to bring positive light to Pine Ridge Reservation as future tribal lawyer

Check out the South Dakota Public Broadcasting interview with Rilda by Black Hills State University student and SDPB intern Amy Varland.  Pine Ridge native and recent BHSU graduate plans to use her degree to inspire others 

 
 Rilda Means was one of more than 400 Black Hills State University graduates earning diplomas last weekend during the 165th Commencement Ceremony. Means, who received her bachelor of science in political science and American Indian Studies, plans to become a tribal lawyer.
 
 Rilda Means hands out Christmas stockings during the annual Red Shirt Cultural Exchange. Each year BHSU faculty, staff and students collect donations of holiday gifts that are taken to students of the Red Shirt Table School on the Pine Ridge Reservation.


Rilda Means has known what she has wanted to do since she was a junior at Red Cloud Indian School – help change the stigma of the Pine Ridge Reservation.

“I did a career test and it said party planner and counselor,” Means said. “But I knew I wanted to be a lawyer. I wanted to find a way where I can effectively help my tribe and my people, and I felt law was the best area.”

Means was one of more than 400 graduates earning degrees Saturday during the 165th Black Hills State University Commencement Ceremony. Means, who received her bachelor of science in political science and American Indian Studies, was also one of the 34 Native American students graduating – the highest in the University’s history.

Means said BHSU provided a great place for her to earn her education while remaining close to home. “I really grew up a lot here,” she said noting the faculty and staff such as Dr. Urla Marcus, director of the Center if American Indian Studies, Dr. Ahrar Ahmad, professor of political science, and Jace DeCory, assistant professor of history and American Indian Studies, broadened her perspective of the world.

This fall, Means will go back to school for her master’s and then plans to enroll in law school. “As a tribe, we are in a standstill. I feel like we could move forward,” she said.

Pine Ridge needs people to bring a fresh, more positive perspective to the reservation, Means said. “One of the things I want to do is just scratch the surface on looking at (the reservation) in a different more positive way,” she said. “We see these shows that constantly come out about Pine Ridge and they are always on how bad it is. But there are a lot of positives that people don’t get to see, like how tight knit families are and how close we are as a community.”

While Means hopes to help lead the reservation to a positive change, she has already left her mark at BHSU. Throughout her time at the University, she has been involved in the Lakota Omniciye, a student organization that promotes fellowship among Indian and non-Indian students, serving as president for the past two years.  Lakota Omniciye also organizes an annual Cultural Awareness Week and Wacipi (powwow) every spring.

She has worked in the Center for American Indian Studies and has been a Bridge mentor for the BHSU Bridge Program, a program that helps students transition from high school to college by addressing academic, professional, cultural and social issues that first-time Native college students may face.

Means said that many people try to discourage her from becoming a tribal lawyer saying there is no money in the profession.  But, for Means, the paycheck is not a top priority.

“If someone doesn’t try to break that … we won’t get anywhere as a tribe,” she said. “I’m not in it for the money. I just want to help. That’s the thing about it, I just want to help.”

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