Community turning to Dakota ways for healing

Shinoah Young Journal Reporter
Leander “Russ” McDonald, Spirit Lake tribal chairmen and Mellissa Merrick-Brady, director of Spirit Lake Victim Assistance, stand in front of gift baskets put together by community members in honor of the three children whose lives were tragically taken last year. A candle burning in the background signifies the importance of their young spirits.

An audience grasped a powerful message Tuesday, after Elder Gloria Redroad shared part of her life story, touching many community members at Cankdeska Cikana Community College.

Today, after many years of emotional and spiritual growth,  the 59-year-old is able to reach out to youth and young adults in Spirit Lake to help them overcome adversities such as abuse, neglect and addiction.

The elder’s speech was a part of the Spirit Lake Victim Assistance’s “child abuse prevention and sexual assault awareness education conference.” Redroad emphasized strongly that the Dakota way of life and traditions are essential for one’s healing.  “It’s a journey,” she said. “It’s for our children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.”

Organizer Natasha Gourd said “I applaud the Spirit Lake victim assistance and all their efforts. They’re out there on the frontlines and they need our prayers.”

Redroad, who endured much abuse as an adolescent, once used alcohol to numb the painful realities of her past.

Now a tribal prevention and outreach worker for recovery and wellness,  she explained through tears “There’s a lot of people here today that have helped me through this. I quit drinking when I was 29. I went through a lot ...”

She said reaching out to elders to learn the language, receiving addiction treatment, counseling, partaking in traditional ceremonies and helping others are all part of a path to lifelong healing. “Who I am as a Dakota wiya (woman), we go to our elders,” said Redroad. “They don’t judge you.”  

“She’s very humble but she’s a firecracker,” Gourd added of Redroad, who also serves as a Wodakota peacemaker for the tribal court. “I appreciate her a lot.”

Redroad’s heartfelt message was followed by a special honoring ceremony to commemorate the three children whose lives were lost as a result of violence last year. The community is still seeking much needed consolation after those losses.

“When there’s a loss you gotta have the Wiping of the Tears Ceremony so part of your spirit doesn’t leave with that person you lost,” said the elder.

Redroad is also one of the volunteers who made baskets full of cookies, candy, beverages, toys, and blankets to honor the victims and their friends and families.  

Moreover, the burning flame of a candle throughout the day marked the significance  of their young spirits. “Part of making the baskets is the Dakota value of generosity,” said Redroad. “Hopefully we will continue to do things to help our community.”

Another speaker, Melissa Merrick-Brady said “We have so much victim blaming. Not only in our community but it’s nation wide.”

According to the U.S. Dept. of Justice, Native American women are 3.5 times more likely to be raped or sexually assaulted than any other race of women in the U.S., however many crimes are not reported so the count is even higher than what is actually recorded.

“(Victims) still need to be validated,” said Merrick-Brady, director of victim assistance for Spirit Lake Tribe. “They still need to hear ‘it wasn’t your fault.’”

The emotional event wrapped up with a talking circle and healing walk.

“Culture was huge in my healing,” said Merrick-Brady. “Without the Creator, without our ceremonies I’d probably be lost.”

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