Warwick School, Ms. Schmidt Spills the Beans
My name is Janis Schmidt. I am an artist and a writer. I have lived 15 years on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Because I stood up for Indians, and demanded they have constitutional rights, I suffered serious reprocussions. I was encouraged to come north to Spirit Lake Reservation and teach at Warwick School where I was the art teacher. I found abuse and colonialism rampant at Warwick. Because I reported the abuse, I suffered serious consequences in the form of malicious retaliations. This is my story. Names of students have been changed to protect identities.
On July 17, 2006, I signed a contract to teach at Warwick Public School. The Contract was offered to me by Charles Guthrie, Superintendent, on behalf of the Warwick School Board. The Contract states that I am certified to teach in North Dakota, and that I will teach for Warwick School for a term of 9 months, beginning August 23, 2006, and will be paid an annual salary of $29,150. I was hired to teach art.
Additionally, Mr. Guthrie wanted me a write a workable art curriculum for Warwick School, stating that they didn’t have any art program for me to follow. I agreed to that, and presented a plan for teaching art that would encompass the idea that art is the embodiment of a people's culture, which in the case of Warwick School, happens to be Dakota Sioux Native American.
The town of Warwick is incorporated under the State of North Dakota, but located within the boundaries of the Spirit Lake Indian Reservation. The student body is almost 100 % Native American, while the staff and School Board is almost 100 % white. One of the reasons I was hired is because of my 14 year teaching experience of living and teaching on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, home of Lakota Sioux Indians. Dakota and Lakota are closely related, in that they share the same history and culture and it was felt I would be able to relate with Indian students. I was cautioned not to discuss my lawsuits with students, which I did not at any time. The only one I mentioned my lawsuits to was Mr. Riedinger, who then used this information to incite unnecessary problems for me with the Spirit Lake Tribe.
I was left to discuss the teaching plans with Mr. Reidinger. When school started, I discovered I was teaching 9th Art, 10th and so on. When I mentioned to Mr. R. that I was disappointed to see art laid out this way, he acted like we had agreed on this, which was not the case. Additionally, I was to teach a 7th grade English class, and a 7th and 8th grade reading. He said we had no choice but to do it this way.
On the very first day of classes, Mr. Michels, the music teacher of some 20 years, asked me to step into a classroom to watch the senior students, while he went somewhere. I did. Students began asking me who I was and where I was from. So I began talking to them, talking about history and culture. At about this time, Mr. Michels came back. He did not ask for his class back or ask me to leave. He stayed and listened for awhile, then he left. He returned, again listening, and not asking me to leave.
During the next hour, my prep time, Mr. Reidinger came into my art room. We were alone. He demanded to know why I was accusing him of being the enemy, that he had a lot of student complaints about me. I told him I had made no such statement. Students asked me if drugs and alcohol were a problem Pine Ridge. I relayed a story of how a boy got into serious trouble because of drinking, and how drinking can lead to very serious problems, suggesting that alcohol was still the enemy. Mr. Reidinger told me it wasn’t my job to talk to students about their history or culture. Art is the embodiment of history and culture. To deny Indians a knowledge of their history and culture is to inflict a type of coloialism upon students which was counter productive to my training and experience.
It wasn’t long before I could see that discipline and disrespect were a real problem at Warwick School. I suggested to Mr. Reidinger and Mr. Guthrie that we have some local Native Americans come into the school to teach kids about their culture, history, and especially how to behave in an Indian way, based upon the 4 tenets of the culture: respect, generosity, courage, and wisdom. Although both men agreed it was a good idea, nothing was ever done about it. I mentioned it several times. I talked with Mr. Ambose Ghost Bear, and the bus driver Kenny Hill about it. Both Native Americans agreed they would like the opportunity to do something. Finally, when I mentioned it again to Mr. Reidinger, he said he would take care of it, which was his way of saying no Native American history and culture is to be taught or encouraged at Warwick School.
There is nothing Native American taught at Warwick school, except for what I encourage, talk about, in my art and English classes. What I have found is that these Indian students are eager and hungry to learn about their culture, their past, what Indians did long ago, who the Indian heroes were, what their morals and beliefs were. I have signed student documentation that they want to learn more about their history and culture.
At one of the first staff meetings, Mr. Guthrie told us, in no uncertain terms, that there was a chain-of-command policy in place, and that we teachers were not to talk to anyone outside of school. He said that a teacher had been talking to community members about problems at the school, and that said teacher would face severe reprimands, possibly leading to their dismissal. I found this to be a very ominous statement with potential conflicts with First Amendment rights.
A 9th grade girl, announced to me in class, while I was talking about Indian art and culture, Indian customs and behaviors, that she had been raped. She said the Mrs. Tiokison and Mr. Reidinger told her to say nothing, but she wanted everyone to know. She said this happened just before school started, and when nothing was done about it, she tried to hang herself. I asked if she had reported this. She said she had, but Mr. Reidinger told her not to talk about it. I asked her how she felt about it. She said she wanted everyone to know, and she wanted to tell me about it. Then she told how her father was beaten to death some 5 years ago, and nothing was ever done about it. I reported this to Mr. Reidinger and Mr. Guthrie, as I know I have a duty to report. They already knew about the rape and suicide attempt. I asked what was being done for her. They said it was confidential, it was being taken care of. I said I thought that law stated that we, as teachers, are mandated to report these kinds of things. They assured me I had done the right thing, consider it reported, and they were taking care of it. I assumed that meant they had reported the rape to the proper authorities.
All of a sudden this student was missing from class or came late. She said Mr. Reidinger gave her permission to “walk.” One day, she said her hands were sore when I asked her to do a drawing. She told me that Mr. Reidinger had a picture of himself on a punching bag in the gym, and she could take out her anger and frustration by punching his picture. I was incredulous that such a method was being applied to a girl who had been so brutally treated and understandably, had anger issues. My talking to Mibimba about the Dakota way of dealing with this, like going to a sweatlodge, was certainly trumped by Mr. Reidinger’s methods. And I had been expressly told by Mr. Reidinger and Mr. Guthrie that a teacher was not to interfere with counseling students, that the administration was trained to deal with these problems, and that I was expressly told to butt out. Shortly thereafter, Mibimba is missing from school. We are told by Mr. Reidinger that Mibimba was a trouble maker, she is picking on students, causing fights, and creating an unsafe environment for other students and is a danger and threat to other students and staff, and had been suspended. Mr. Reidinger cautioned us not to talk to anyone about this. This happened in October, 2006.
I found out, in December, when I called the girl’s mother, Babs,* to ask when Mibimba was coming back to school, since she was still listed as enrolled in my class. Babs told me that her daughter had been kicked out of school. On the day of the incident, a girl, Sabina Merry Legs, had said something to Mibimba. The bell rang. While in the hallway, Mibimba knocked the girl down. Some kids piled on Mibimba. Ms. Armstrong, the English teacher, grabbed Mibimba’s arms, jerking them behind her back. While restrained by Ms. Armstrong, Mibimba was kicked in the mouth and face by students, cutting her lip. She jerked free. Ms. Armstrong told the other girl to run to the office. The rape and suicidal victim, Mibimba, jumped up and followed. Ms. Armstrong grabbed Mibimba, but she pushed Ms. Armstrong into the lockers, and chased the girl down to the office. Mr. Reidinger apprehended both girls, sending the chased girl into Mr. Jacobson’s office, and telling the rape victim to go into his office. While questioning her, she informed him that she needed to go bathroom. He wouldn’t let her go. Mr. R blocked her way. She pushed him. He still wouldn’t let her go bathroom. She punched him in the stomach. (Isn't that what he had trained her to do?) He told Mr. Jacobson to call the police, which he did. He was very angry, and told her she was expelled and not to come back to school. He called Babs and told her she could pick her daughter up at the jail, because she got into a fight and that she was expelled for 5 days. The tribal police came and took her to jail. A couple hours later, Mr. Reidinger told Babs that her daughter was not to come back to school, that she was expelled. An aura of silence fell over the name of Mibimba. We teachers asked why Mibimba is still on our records as enrolled if she has been expelled. The answer we are given is that she is being ‘home schooled,’ which literally has no meaning. This is the way problems are handled at Warwick; they get rid of them, and everyone is ordered not to talk about it.
At one of the first staff meetings, Mr. Guthrie told us, in no uncertain terms, that there was a chain-of-command policy in place, and that we teachers were not to talk to anyone outside of school. He said that a teacher had been talking to community members about problems at the school, and that said teacher would face severe reprimands, possibly leading to their dismissal.
I caught 2 girls smoking in the bathroom. I took the burning cigarette to the office a gave it to Mr. Jacobson, who asked if I knew the 2. I said no, but I could identify them, which I did at lunch time. When I reported this to Mr. Reidinger, he said he knew who the 2 girls were. I was quite surprised, so I asked who. He gave me names of 2 girls who were not the smokers. So I asked how he got these names. He said he asked Brittany and Sarah Gets-By-With-It, the smokers, and they had named the other girls. I was incredulous. I reported this to Mr. Guthrie. Mr. Reidinger was furious. I was standing in the teacher’s room when he came by. He ordered me to go to his office, that he was bringing all 4 girls. I went down to the office. After several minutes, I told Monica that I would be in my room, should Mr. R. want to see me. About 5 minutes later, Mr. R and 4 girls arrive. Mr. R. starts out by asking Sarco what happened. She said that they weren’t smoking, that it was the other 2 girls. Mr. R. then asked me what happened. I told him how I smelled cigarette smoke and upon walking to the 2nd stall, found both sisters in the same stall, one standing up on the toilet seat. I waited. I did not exit the bathroom. Finally both girls rushed quickly out. I entered the stall and found the cigarette still burning in #2 stall. Mr. R. wanted to know if I saw the cigarette in their hands. Because he said that unless I saw the cigarette in their hands, there was nothing the school could do about it. I felt this was highly improper to be questioning me in front of the 4 girls, to be actually defending the wrongdoers. But I felt I could say nothing, so I said, “I told you everything I know. Anything further said would be improper.”
Mr. R. insisted that I had identified the wrong girls.
I said, “No, I had identified the girls, and that I had said all I was going to say at that point.” Nothing ever came of the smoking incident, because Sarco and Briggin acted as spies for Mr. Riedinger, to report to him on teacher wrongdoing. They were his "special" students. You could find them wandering the halls at any time. They were never in detention.
With November half over, Mr. Reidinger asked for ideas from the staff for Native American day. Bear in mind, this is a 10 minute meeting before school starts. No one said anything. I suggested we couldn’t come up with anything in the next few minutes. Why not form a committee? Alright, Mr. Reidinger said, “and you will chair the committee. Get your committee by the end of the day.” Which I did. I asked every Native American on staff to be on the committee, and they readily agreed. Toward the end of the day, Mr. Reidinger stopped me by the office to inform me that Mr. Michels had a lot of good ideas. So I went down to his room to ask if he would like to be on the committee. He agreed and I said we would meet in the art room at 3:30, which I had already told the others. At 3:30, when no one showed up, I walked down towards the office to find Michels and Reidinger in the hallway together. Michels announced that the meeting would be in Mrs. E’s room. “But I already told everyone to meet in the art room.” Which was totally ignored. Michels had totally taken over. He went into E’s room and said, “let’s get started.” I hadn’t even sat down. I said, “Excuse me! thought I was the chair of this committee. We already have some ideas of what we would like to do.” Michels half listened but presented his ideas of having a short program and then returning to the rooms for crafts and story telling and then letting the kids go home at 3:30. I asked the others what they were thinking. And they said they wanted to postpone from the 22nd of Nov to the 1st of Dec so we could have a powwow. Which everyone except Michels agreed upon. I suggested we get a drum group and master of ceremonies right away, a good speaker who would be able to announce the events. Michels kept talking about his ideas. We were talking about a powwow. Finally, Michels said a speaker was a very poor idea, that they had a speaker last year and the kids didn’t want any “fucking speaker”. I was shocked this language was used in a meeting. It really put a chill on any further discussion or ideas. Mr. Michels jumped up and left, stating he had to catch his ride. I looked around and asked what people thought. They were shocked. I wrote up a complaint and gave it to Mr. Reidinger and Mr. Guthrie. The next day, I was order to meet in Mrs. Toikenson’s office with Mr. Michels and Mr. Reidinger. I was questioned inquisition style, told I hadn’t heard what I heard, and if I did hear it, it wan’t said in that context. Mr. Michels was excused and Reidinger said he wanted to talk to me. He then told me I was to say nothing to the community, and I was not to talk about Leonard Peltier or native American history in my classes. Since I viewed this as a threat, I said nothing.
The rest of the afternoon was spent planning the Native American Day. Ms. Franklin, Marcia, the Canadian aide to Ms. Armstrong, Mr. Michaels, and sometimes Mr. Reidinger were there. Mr. Michels dictated how everything would be. We wanted the day to be Dec 1st, a Friday, instead of Nov 22nd , the day before Thanksgiving. Mr. Michaels said we couldn’t have it on the 1st because Mr. Guthrie wanted the day to be in November. It HAD to be the 22nd.
The next day, Mr. Reidinger, in a surprise move, escorted me to Mr. Guthrie’s office, who said he had something of very serious consequences to talk with me about. I got the strong sense this meant no good for me. He said that rumors had been flying around school that a teacher was going to be fired. Mr. Reidinger said that Mr. Michaels was so distraught he could not function, because of me. I said, “If there are to be serious consequences, then I demand to have someone present on my behalf.” Mr. Reidinger jumped up to get Mr. Michels, the NEA rep. “No,” I said, “I want Leonard Peltier’s lawyer present. Here’s his number.” I took out my billfold and read off his number and cell number. All of a sudden, Mr. Guthrie started talking about my teaching, and what a good teacher I was. He never did get to the serious consequences, what ever that was.
Michels has 27 years of teaching at Warwick School, as the music teacher. He is a living example that if you play the game right, it's gravy train all the way. There is no band, no chorus, no musical production, nothing. Instead, he shows videos, and brainwashes the kids into thinking he is a wonderful man. What does he do? Nothing. He coached Reidingers girls on how to manufacture evidence of wrongdoers at Warwick School. He turned them from wanting to know something about their heritage and culture, to denouncing it, which is the essense of colonialism. Basically, he taught the system, which is; you do as you are told, no questions asked, you rat on your friends, and report anyone who appears to be questioning authority, especially any mistreatments of Indians because that is an offense to talk about such things. Sarco and Briggin were his special students, as they were very special to Mr. Riedinger.
We had Native American day. Mr. Michels had totally arranged everything so that it would be a “white” event, rather than Indian. He decided that I would conduct dream catcher making workshop. I told Mr. R. that we didn’t have materials for it, and that I, having practiced with the 9th graders, didn’t remember exactly how to do this. Mr. R totally ignored what I had said. On the day, I was standing in the 4 way by the office talking with Sheriann, a senior in my art class, asking her if she knew of anyone who could help with the making of dream catchers. She did. I asked if she could call her to see if see could come and help out. At about this time Mr. R butts in and demands to know what is going on. I retort that I am doing my best to proceed with his and Mr. Michels plans. He said he didn’t like my negative attitude, and ordered me into his office. He told me to go into Mr. Jacobson’s office, like I was a 5th grader. Mr. Jacobson was present. Mr. R. demanded to know what I was doing. I told him I was trying to find someone to help with dream catchers. Mr. R. questioned my sincerity. I told him I was very busy and didn’t have time for this. He said, “Why don’t you be honest with me.” He kept badgering me, and wouldn't let me leave, kept demanding to know what problems I had with him.
So I told him that he bullied, harassed, and intimidated people. That he always stuck his nose into everything. That he treated us teachers like 5th graders instead of trained professionals. That he made hasty decisions without the advice of his staff and we had to then deal with those ill-advised decisions. That he lied. That he took twisted words to suit his own purposes. That he used students to spy on teachers, thus creating discipline problems in the teacher’s class room. That he didn’t like me, and appeared out to get me, for some reason. That he didn't understand Indians, and had no respect for their culture, and that it appeared to me he was doing his best to try wipe out the culture by forbidding the students to learn something about their ancesters and their history. Mr. Riedinger blew up at me, and used his position as my supervisor to bully and intimidate me. He ordered me not to talk to my classes about Native American history or culture. I told him that it was colonial abuse to withhold cultural information from Indian students. He told me that was not a part of standards or Warwick School policy. He ordered me to keep my mouth shut. I told him that was unconstitutional. Mr. R told me I had to agree to follow school policy. “I was not aware that Warwick School had a policy,” I said. I told him I agreed to teach my classes as hired by contract, that my first duty was to my students, to protect them from administrative abuse, that I agreed to obey North Dakota laws, and that I had signed an affidavit that I would uphold the U.S. Constitution, and that is what I agreed to.
When I came out the door, Sheriann was waiting. She said, “Now you know what we go through.”
*Babs, acronym for Bad Assed Sioux Bitch, which is how Guthrie and Riedinger regarded Mibimba's mother, since she would come right over to the school and bitch them out, i.e., question their authority. Furthermore, she lacked standing. She wasn't on the school board or in tribal government. She was just another full blood Indian to be gotten rid of.
Native American Day continued. Mr. Michels was the announcer, and he an Mr. R. had a little program, which lasted about 1 hour. Then everyone had to segregate, instead of all events taking place in the gym like we wanted. Back in the art room, the new girl, Jam, a 7th grader, came in and began working on dreamcatcher. Then Briggin, Sarcode, and another girl came in they hung around new girl. They weren't interested in making dream catchers. They messed up a hoop, broke it. These were the smoking sisters, Riedinger's main spies. They could do no wrong; he never disciplined them. I looked and Jam was gone; so were the girls. Her friend said I had better check the bathrooms, because they are after her. I did, but found no one. Mr. R came out of office, and asked who I was looking for. When I mentioned his special girls, he ignored the whole thing.. I went back to room and friend told me how these girls were taunting Jam, calling her sexual names and other little epitaphs.