Friends of the Children opened Friends – He Sapa in 2022, a site working directly with the Lakota Oyate [people] in Rapid City, South Dakota. The Friends of the Children model ensures that youth are supported from as early as age 4 through high school graduation—nearly half of the Topa [four stages of the Lakota Way of Life]. Friends of the Children is committed to grounding our work in Lakota culture using the extended kinship model through naming ceremonies, making of relatives, coming of age ceremonies, and healing camps. In addition to serving Indigenous children and families in Rapid City, Friends – He Sapa has gained the support of the Oglala Sioux Tribal Council to expand service to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.
Each child enrolled in the Friends – He Sapa program will be paired with a paid, professional mentor called a Friend. For 12+ years, from ages 4 to 6 to high school graduation, Friends work with their youth in schools, at home, and in the community for 3 to 4 hours each week to build skills like problem-solving, perseverance, and self-management. These skills empower youth to pursue and achieve their goals in school and in life. Simultaneously, leveraging our two-generation approach, Friends will empower parents and caregivers to build their own skills as parents, advocate for themselves and their children, and increase connectedness to community resources that improve family stability.
Friends of the Children - He Sapa
937 E. North St. STE 401
Rapid City, SD 57701
Meet Valeriah Big Eagle - Executive Director
Valeriah Big Eagle, Wakan Wocekiye Win (Sacred Prayer Woman), is an enrolled member of the Ihanktonwan Oyate and currently serves on the Title VI Indian Education Parent Advisory Committee and the Indigenous Education Task Force for Rapid City Area Schools. She received both her Baccalaureate in Sociology and her Master of Education from South Dakota State University. In addition, she received her Doctor of Education in Education Leadership from the University of South Dakota, specializing in Adult & Higher Education Administration. She understands the inequitable challenges that indigenous students face in education systems due to lack of cultural understanding and systemic racism, especially if they are in settings with little support for their cultural identity. She studied healing-informed practices in education that support Indigenous students and hopes to influence programming and public policy initiatives to culturally support indigenous students, resulting in an increase of indigenous graduates from high school, college, and beyond. Some of her accomplishments include being selected for Prairie Business Magazine’s “40 Under 40” Award, the F.O. Butler in Excellence for Community Service Award, and for serving as a 2020 Bush Fellow. She also participated in various leadership programs including: Leadership South Dakota, Native Nation Rebuilders, Rapid City Collective Impact Emerging Leaders, and Leadership Rapid City.
Meet Tasha Fridia - National Director of Tribal Programs
Tasha R. Fridia (Pejuta Cangleska Win – Sacred Medicine Circle Woman), is an enrolled member of the Wichita and Affiliated Tribes and is Kiowa, Caddo, and Hunka Oglala Lakota. She is a lifelong resident of the ancestral homelands of her Kitikitish people and has a deep connection to the land that is now known as Oklahoma. Ms. Fridia holds a Juris Doctorate with a certificate in American Indian Law from Oklahoma City University School of Law, a master’s degree in Human Resources Development from Webster University, and a bachelor’s degree from the University of Oklahoma.
Ms. Fridia has dedicated her career to serving youth through prevention and intervention using a cultural lens. Most recently, Tasha served as the Assistant Director of the Tribal Youth Resource Center where she collaborated with tribes across Indian Country to implement Tribal Youth Programs and Juvenile Healing to Wellness Courts. Ms. Fridia continues to work and volunteer with various entities whose focus range from education equity, to youth engagement, and tribal economic development. Her intent is to further affect positive change in all. Tasha views joining Friends of the Children in the role of National Director of Tribal Programs as an opportunity to broaden her impact on both children and families so they can reach their greatest potential.
Tasha is the legacy of many generations of activists and advocates dedicated to political, policy, and systems change. She interweaves her traditional Indigenous knowledge and western education throughout her work. Tasha strives to make her ancestors proud in everything she undertakes and is guided by the Indigenous value, “Children are sacred.” Her most important job and greatest legacy are her daughters, Isabella and Kennedy. Ms. Fridia serves as a mentor to many other young people and is dedicated to the strength and wellness of the future generations. With every opportunity and position Tasha seeks to find ways to share what she has learned for the betterment of her community and the world.
Tasha Fridia - National Director of Tribal Programs
Enrolled member of Wichita and Affiliated Tribes and is Kiowa, Caddo, and Hunka Oglala Lakota