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November 6, 2023

Shaping a New Generation of Indigenous Youth

Portrait of Marlin Kingi

Everyone has a mentor they look up to in life—but knowing at what point to become a mentor is a true challenge. 

Marlin Kingi grew up in Pine Ridge, a small rural town in Oglala Lakota County, South Dakota. As he recounts growing up, finding a positive male role model in his community was not always easy. 

“I think when you look at poverty areas, a lot of the times the fathers and male role models are absent from the picture. So, the positive role models I did have mostly where my male teachers and coaches.” 

Nearly two decades after graduating high school, at 35, Marlin returned to school to pursue a master’s degree in education at Claremont Graduate University. Part of the first cohort to receive the university’s Claremont Native American Fellowship (CNAF), he formed close relationships with his fellow Native American students and teachers alike.

One relationship he recounted as particularly meaningful to him was that of his teaching mentor, Sue Shaffer, a now-retired professor at CGU.

“We met every week, hours upon the week and we still keep in touch even though she has since retired from CGU. I think [for me], it modeled the type of teachers that they want us to be. When you’re with these very positive and high-performing teachers every day, you get to see what good, effective teaching looks like.”

As he puts it, landing in a program that was able to accentuate and highlight the skills that he already possessed helped him take the next step in his career, and the unique curriculum of the teacher’s education program gave him the tools to prepare his students for the real world.

“I think a lot of times we’ll go to schools and we’re like, why are we learning this? I never felt like that at CGU. I always felt like everything was centered and focused on us being in the classroom, us being intentional with our students, and us creating learning environments and setting our students up for success.”

In 2020, Marlin and his family returned to South Dakota so he could teach high school in his hometown, becoming the type of mentor that he sought out growing up. They currently live in Rapid City, South Dakota, and Marlin makes the 100-mile round-trip commute to the Pine Ridge reservation each day. He is entering his fourth year of teaching at Lakota Tech High School, the first CTE high school on a reservation in the United States.