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State Honoree

Photo of State Honoree Oscar Kavanagh

Oscar Kavanagh

Brookings, South Dakota

Oscar Kavanagh, 18, of Brookings, S.D., a senior at Brookings High School, formed a nonprofit organization, “FREE” (Funding for Reservation Education and Equality), to raise money to buy educational supplies for schools on Native American reservations in his state. In 2004, Oscar’s family moved from Ireland to run a dairy farm in South Dakota. “I remember how shocked my parents were to find how the Great People of the Plains were living in destitution,” Oscar said. As he grew older, he noticed a general apathy among his classmates over the disparities between life on the reservation and their own environment. “They grew up knowing about the reservations and took their plight as unchangeable,” he said. But Oscar couldn’t accept that.

Two years ago, he set out to learn all he could about his state’s nine reservations, concentrating especially on the Pine Ridge Reservation. He read books about the Lakota people, met with individuals who had donated books or organized relief efforts on the reservations, and contacted reservation schools to learn about curriculum, student statistics and aid programs. After meeting with the staff of the Pine Ridge Indian School, he decided to contribute to its greenhouse project, which teaches students how to grow their own food, an important skill on a huge reservation with minimal access to fresh produce. Raising money through Kickstarter and GoFundMe websites, and through appeals to family and friends, Oscar was able to raise more than $1,200 to help pay for upkeep and supplies for the greenhouse, as well as books for classrooms at several reservations.