Tanya Manus Journal staff
The graduation ceremony Saturday at Indian University of North America marks a transition for students and for the university’s Associate Director, Whitney Rencountre II. Rencountre is moving into a new role as chief executive officer of Crazy Horse Memorial Foundation.
Rencountre was named to the CEO position by the foundation’s board of directors. The Crazy Horse Memorial Foundation oversees the continued work on the mountain carving, the museums and operations throughout the year at Crazy Horse Memorial, and the Indian University of North America.
“I’m looking forward to honoring the legacy … the bridge built between cultures and not only honoring that legacy but going into the future, helping the foundation honor the mission (of Crazy Horse Memorial), which is to protect and preserve the heritage of North American Indians,” Rencountre said of becoming CEO.
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“I’m truly humbled by the outreach and excitement from a lot of folks that have given me encouragement and advice in this recent role I’ve been appointed to, and I’m so thankful this opportunity has been afforded to me. I’m excited to help bring out the best of the staff and supporters of the Crazy Horse Memorial Foundation,” he said.
Rencountre officially started as CEO on Aug. 1, while simultaneously finishing his tenure as associate director and an instructor for the university’s 7th Gen summer program. After the students graduate from the program this weekend, Rencountre will fully take on the job of CEO. In addition to leaving his job as associate director of the Indian University of North America, he will retire as an instructor for its programs.
“I want to build off the successes. Obviously there’s a lot of great things that have happened through the years. We have a great group of dedicated workers who are truly motivated to honor the dream. I also want to expand and make as much progress with carving the mountain… as well as being careful and taking care of the mountain,” he said.
“At all times I am mindful of Henry Standing Bear and his fellow chiefs and elders, who asked Korczak Ziolkowski to establish a place where people from around the world could learn about the culture and traditions of Native American people, and to preserve the history and heritage for future generations. I am honored to now step in and take the lead in advancing this vision,” Rencountre said. “It’s truly an honor and privilege to work with the board and our group of dedicated workers to continue the mission of the Crazy Horse Memorial Foundation into the future.”
Rencountre is a 2018 graduate of Black Hills State University, where he was also a student in the late 1990s and 2000. During his time at BHSU, he served as president of the Lakota Omniciye student organization. Rencountre remains active in the BHSU community, serving as the announcer for the annual Lakota Omniciye Wacipi and facilitating the Feathering Ceremony at spring graduation. He was a guest speaker several times during American Indian Awareness Week on campus.
Rencountre currently serves as a commissioner on the Rapid City Human Relations Commission, and he trains Crazy Horse staff members in cultural understanding and professional development.
Rencountre lives in Rapid City with his wife of 21 years, full-time author and former school counselor Jessie Taken Alive-Rencountre. The Rencountres have four daughters.
Education a key to progress
Rencountre served as associate director of the Indian University of North America at the Crazy Horse Memorial since January 2021. Education will continue to be one of Rencountre’s passions for Crazy Horse Memorial because he believes teaching people about Native culture is essential. One of his goals is to promote the museums at Crazy Horse as resources for educators and school districts.
“I truly believe that we have yet to make true progress in incorporating education and traditions and history (in schools), as well as providing support to educate people about Native people and the beautiful culture we have,” he said. “Our children deserve a place like Crazy Horse to be a resource to help educate and make our communities better.”
“There’s possibilities in what we can accomplish in terms of better relations between Natives and non-Natives,” Rencountre said.
The Indian University of North America partners with Black Hills State University to sponsor credits for students from tribes nationwide who go through the 7th Gen summer program. Combining internships at Crazy Horse Memorial with education, students learn to develop themselves to become leaders.
South Dakota State University partners with the Indian University of North America to offer the fall semester Wizipan Fall Leadership and Sustainability Program, for which students can earn a 15-credit certificate.
“Ruth Ziolkowski had this vision of helping youth with higher education and providing them tools and opportunities to find success with education,” Rencountre said. “We will mentor, we will advise, and we support students even after they graduate from the 7th Gen program. We stay in contact and mentor them and I think that’s what makes our program unique.”
Rencountre said he would like to expand the university and the scholarships it provides, perhaps creating a campus for the university and more opportunities for students.
Rencountre and his family have presented educational and cultural programming for Crazy Horse Memorial Foundation since 2017. Jessie and the couple’s daughters continue the summer presentations and introduce visitors to Jessie’s four books. Her fifth book is in progress.
“My family and I were invited to give some presentations through the summer to guests who visited Crazy Horse from (around) the world. My family and I are deeply involved in traditional ways as singers and dancers as well as educators,” Rencountre said. “Educating about our history and challenges we face but also (presenting) messages of healing and inspiration. We feel like we do better (because) we know better.”
“When I’m involved somewhere, I truly have to believe in the vision. I truly immersed myself in supporting the Crazy Horse Memorial Foundation,” he said.
“The Board conducted an extensive search for a new CEO and found Whitney’s leadership experience in operations, program management and development best suited to carry forward the mission of the Foundation — to protect and preserve the culture, tradition and living heritage of North American Indians, Steve Helmers, chair of the foundation’s board of directors, said in a news release. “Whitney often speaks of the importance of ‘building bridges’ and is widely known for his ability to establish strong relationships, forge alliances, and connect with advocates, supporters, and volunteers. Further, Whitney honors his heritage as a member of the Crow Creek Hunkpati Dakota Nation through his commitment to family, and to work that promotes respect and healing among people of diverse cultures.”