Lakota Nation | Community Service

Examining Food Justice in the Face of Climate Change

Work on the front lines of climate justice during this student community service program with the Lakota Nation on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Contribute to projects focused on improving food access in a food desert by working in the community gardens and harvesting crops. Make traditional Lakota drums, attend a summer powwow, and learn about Lakota history from local elders and visits to the Wounded Knee Memorial and Badlands National Park.

July 10, 2017  –  July 23, 2017
At A Glance:
  • Adventure
    Outdoor exploration, hiking, biking, swimming, and other active pursuits
  • History
    Exploration of the country’s past, politics, and culture, and visits to historical sites
  • Service
    Focus on community-based projects in collaboration with a partner village
Completing grades 9 – 12
US Gateway City:
Rapid City, South Dakota
Community Service
14 days
Typical Group:
16 – 18 students, 2 leaders
$ 3,790 + airfare
  • Explore the impacts of climate change and development on food security in the U.S.
  • Create community gardens to improve food access in the Pine Ridge Reservation
  • Construct a traditional tipi, participate in a sweat lodge ceremony, and attend a powwow
  • Search for fossils as you explore picturesque rock formations in Badlands National Park

Leader Profile: ZACK ZAPPONE

Education: Georgetown University, B.A., American Studies

While at Georgetown, Zack focused on social justice issues. In particular, he examined how the media coverage of education has impacted the public school system… read more

While at Georgetown, Zack focused on social justice issues. In particular, he examined how the media coverage of education has impacted the public school system in America. He volunteered as a tutor in D.C. schools and taught English classes for immigrants on weekends. He studied abroad and lived with a host family in Madrid, Spain. After college, Zack moved to Washington State to work to improve the education system in rural eastern Washington for Teach for America. He was selected for the Rural School Leadership Academy and nominated for a Sue Lehman Teaching and Learning Fellowship. He currently teaches English language, Art, and History, coaches soccer,  is an advisor for mock trial and youth legislature, and organizes a class trip to Washington, D.C., for his students. Zack has traveled to 11 European countries and recently backpacked through Bolivia, Peru, and Costa Rica. He is proficient in Spanish and has led Putney’s Community Service Costa Rica and Community Service Peru programs.


Departure • Travel Day • Meet your leaders and fellow group members in Rapid City, South Dakota, and drive together to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. To learn more about how we organize travel, click here.

Pine Ridge Indian Reservation • 10 days • Get to know your group during an in-depth orientation to this community service program and to the history, traditions, and current challenges facing the Lakota Nation. Join grassroots initiatives and work to improve food access in a rural food desert without consistent and affordable access to fresh produce and nutritious foods. Build traditional tipis for your group to reside in while you assist with the community garden, learn about medicinal plants, and work on small construction projects in preparation for the annual Sundance ceremony. Harvest food from the garden and prepare group meals made from freshly sourced ingredients. Join Lakota artists and learn about traditional crafts, then create your own handmade drum or flute. Deepen your understanding of contemporary Lakota culture and Lakota history; interview elders and storytellers, attend a powwow, participate in a sweat lodge ceremony, and visit the Wounded Knee Memorial.

Badlands National Park • 2 days • Experience the striking beauty of Badlands National Park, South Dakota. Visit the Stronghold Table, the site of the last Ghost Dances before the Wounded Knee Massacre, and learn about the strong historical ties the Lakota have with the landscape. Hike alongside towering spires and search for fossils in one of the world’s most extensive fossil beds. Photograph bison and bighorn sheep as you explore the park’s sprawling grasslands.

Return • Travel Day • At the end of your community service program, return to Rapid City with your group and connect on to your final destination. To learn more about how we organize travel, click here.

This itinerary represents our best projection of the group’s schedule. However, we may implement changes designed to improve the quality of the program.


Due to the dynamic nature of this student travel program, each day is different. Here is a snapshot of a day in the Pine Ridge Reservation.

8 AM Breakfast outside overlooking the gardens
9 AM Work with your group to build a rain catchment system for the community garden
12 PM Prepare lunch with food harvested from the local garden
1 PM Picnic lunch
2 PM Design your own handmade drum under the guidance of a  local artist
5 PM Interview elders and storytellers about their history and deep connection to the land
7 PM Dinner made from locally sourced food
9 PM Group meeting under the stars to discuss the day and upcoming schedule
10 PM Fall asleep in the tipi that you and your group helped to construct

I think Phoebe would have loved to stay another week! Well done everyone involved … this was an exceptional experience.  

— Sue & John Bruce, Lexington, MA

What to Expect

Community Service This summer program with the Lakota Nation is designed to provide the opportunity to learn about another culture by forming meaningful relationships with local people and undertaking a shared community service experience together. You should come to the summer with an open mind, eager to participate in new experiences and interested in exploring another culture and way of life. During your travels in the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, you can expect to participate in several different service experiences — light construction projects where you may learn to build tipi structures or water catchment systems and gardening projects such as planting, harvesting, or processing crops. All students participate in each of the group’s projects on a rotating basis, and everyone lends a hand in meal preparation and cleanup. You can expect to complete 30 – 50 hours of community service work. To learn more about our Community Service programs, click here.

Independent Project • Pursue an independent project and explore an aspect of local culture of particular interest to you — interview elders about changes in Lakota culture over time, create a short documentary about social justice and food security, or prepare an elaborate home-cooked meal to share with the community.

Physical Activity • This is a physically active summer program. Gardening, construction work, walking, and hiking are all activities in which you might participate during this program. You do not need to be at peak fitness to participate, but it is important that you have a desire to be physically active, and that you are excited about trying all activities.

Accommodations On the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation we stay in tipis and use sleeping pads and sleeping bags on the floor. The bathrooms are outhouses and the showers are rustic. In Badlands National Park, we will camp in tents with scenic views of the Badlands iconic rock formations. Campgrounds have running water and flush toilets. Leaders reside together with the students throughout the program.

Meals • We work together to prepare all of our meals as a group with locally-sourced meats and vegetables from the garden. Meals are nutritious and are prepared and eaten communally. While in Badlands National Park, food is a combination of simple breakfasts, picnic lunches, and simple restaurant dinners.

I expected this program to confirm Caroline’s desire to travel independently and provide service to a local community. Putney Student Travel came highly recommended to us and this program exceeded all of our expectations.  

— Kathleen and David Baum, Wellesley Hills, MA

Ask Us

Call Maya at 802.387.5000 or email

The Community Service Lakota Nation program is directed by Maya Higgins. If you have questions, are interested in receiving more detailed information, or would like to talk further about the program or any of our high school summer programs abroad, please get in touch!

Maya Higgins

Scripps College, B.A., Organismal Biology and Ecology.

Maya first discovered her passion for travel while studying abroad in Kenya and England and then doing field research in Costa Rica. After graduating from college, Maya studied the impacts of ecotourism on island communities as a Thomas J. Watson Fellow in Madagascar, New Zealand, Palau, Micronesia, and the Galápagos Islands before moving to Thailand to teach English on a Fulbright Fellowship. Before joining Putney full-time, Maya spent three years working for NatureBridge as an environmental science educator in Yosemite National Park, Olympic National Park, and the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. In 2016, Maya was named one of National Geographic’s 30 Under 30: the Next Generation of National Park Leaders. Maya has led programs for National Geographic Student Expeditions in Thailand and Vietnam and currently organizes Putney programs in Southeast Asia, Europe, and the United States. Maya is passionate about female empowerment, outdoor adventure, and delicious food. When not working, Maya can be found cuddling with puppies, testing the spice tolerance of her taste buds, or frolicking in alpine meadows.