Chief Red Cloud of the Lakota American Indian tribe may be long dead, but his legacy recently was brought back to life by Kentridge High School sophomore Blake Allen.
Allen, 16, was one of 11 Kentridge students to make it to the state level of the annual National History Day contest this year, competing April 26 at University of Washington. The contest requires students to develop a historical research paper, documentary, display, original performance or a Web site based on a theme and present it to a panel of judges.
Allen’s historical display, entitled “Red Cloud: Warrior and Statesman,” earned him second-place at the state competition and a chance to compete at the national competition at the University of Maryland in June. This year’s contest theme was “Conflict and Compromise,” and Allen said Chief Red Cloud was the perfect subject.
“When I think about conflict and compromise, the Indian wars and the U.S. westward expansion really defined conflict and compromise,” Allen said.
The leader of the Lakota people, native to present-day South Dakota, was both a fierce warrior and a diplomat during his years as chief. Allen said Red Cloud was the only American Indian chief to ever win a war against the U.S., in a battle lasting from 1866-1868.
“He was willing to stand up for himself and for his people and say no to the United States,” Allen said. “And then he later made the wise decision to become a statesman and negotiate.”
Allen’s project thesis argued that Red Cloud’s initial defiance and later compromise played a large part in preserving the Lakota people and their land. They now have a reservation in South Dakota called Pine Ridge.
Allen has been working on his project since September, he said, doing a wide variety of research, including personally interviewing the current Lakota leader, Chief Alfred Red Cloud. He also spent months designing his display in the shape of a large tepee.
The hard work has paid off, though, he said. He first entered the National History Day contest last year, placing fifth in state and becoming the first Kentridge student to do so well.
“It kind of set a spark in me, and I felt like if I came back again this year I could maybe make it to nationals,” Allen said. “And I did.”
Kentridge history teacher Mike Papritz said he and several other teachers at the school make entering a project in the contest a class requirement, but Allen isn’t taking history this year.
“This is a kid who no longer has a history class this year,” the teacher said. “This is something he just wanted to do in his spare time, so that’s pretty neat.”
Papritz, who has been taking students to the contest for 10 years, said National History Day is important, and he has pushed to get more students involved in the contest over the years.
“It’s an excellent way to get some more rigor out of our students, and we’re not telling them the information,” the teacher said. “They’re looking at primary source materials and writing their story of a piece of history.”
He said knowing history isn’t essential to everyday life, but it’s vital in the long run.
“History gives students a better understanding of life’s larger values,” Papritz said. “We could go through life without knowing much history, but we’d be doomed to repeat it.”
Allen shares the same passion for history, and his main goal in entering the contest was to educate people.
“There are so many stereotypes,” he said. “By being able to teach people the significance of people like Chief Red Cloud, I felt I could set the record straight.”
He wants to continue teaching people about history in the future by fulfilling his longtime desire to become an elementary-school teacher. He wants to teach sixth-grade students and give them an opportunity to enter a National History Day contest, too.
Allen wasn’t the only Kentridge student to place at the contest. Four students placed this year, the school’s best-ever showing at the contest.
Kentridge student Bishal Upadhyaya placed third at the contest for his Web site on the atomic bomb, also winning a special award for the best use of primary sources. Max Churaisin placed fifth for his paper on the Yalta Conference, and Christian Ie placed sixth for his documentary on Iwo Jima.
More information about Washington State History Day can be found at www.washingtonhistory.org/wshm/education/history-day/index.htm. Information on National History Day can be found at www.nationalhistoryday.org/about.htm.
Contact Daniel Mooney at 253-437-6012 or firstname.lastname@example.org.