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Santee Sioux Nation: Healing the Sacred Child

This video highlights two specific programs—the Horse Program and Fatherhood is Sacred. Both programs help families heal by working through the historical trauma and pain associated with drug endangerment.

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THERESA REMICK, HEALTH AND WELLNESS CENTER, SISSETON WAHPETON: Healthy children are respectful. They listen, they hear, they see what's going on around them, and they are curious. They want to know more about what's going on around them.

WYATT THOMAS, NATIVE AMERICAN STUDIES INSTRUCTOR, ISANTI DAKOTA: If we want our children to be healthy, we have to teach them to think healthy, we have to teach them to walk healthy. But most important of all, we have to teach them to respect healthy.

RICK THOMAS, ELDER, SANTEE SIOUX NATION, ISANTI DAKOTA: A healthy child is always smiling, not afraid of who they are. I'm the tribal historical preservation officer for the tribe. We're looking at intangible cultural heritage, you know. How did we do it back then? You know, how can we use it today to make this community a little safer and more pride?

THERESA REMICK: We as a people haven't always been here in Santee.

RICK THOMAS: Our aboriginal homeland was Minnesota, but in 1862, we had what you call a Minnesota Uprising.

WYATT THOMAS: They hung 38 of our ancestors—the largest mass hanging that the government had issued on a Native American people.

RICK THOMAS: After that, they exiled us.

THERESA REMICK: The Santee Sioux Nation had gone through some really, really harsh times. Some that I can't even imagine. They watched people die, they starved, they fought for their way of life, and they lost.

RICK THOMAS: And what they wanted to do was go back to Minnesota, and they made it as far as here.

WYATT THOMAS: We are here now in Santee, Nebraska. We consider it our homeland of the Santee Dakota.

THERESA REMICK: There was grief—probably grief that was unresolved. A lot of families hurting when they were moved here. Their culture changed into a culture of violence. I know this is harsh, but a culture that didn't respect family ties, and a culture that alcohol—for sure alcohol, and then it moved to drugs. But alcohol, to start, was their culture.

MISTY THOMAS, DIRECTOR, DAKOTA TIWAHE SOCIAL SERVICES, ISANTI DAKOTA: Domestic violence, child abuse, sexual abuse—those kind of things didn't exist with our people a long time ago. There was ways that it was dealt with to make sure that it didn't exist with our people.

RICK THOMAS: The culture, the spirituality, traditions, and customs are all there. We're the ones that are lost.

MISTY THOMAS: There were things that were taught to our people to prevent things like that from happening. We've lost those things: respect for yourself, respect for others, respect for children, and respect for women.

RICK THOMAS: We no longer have clans or societies, you know. But we do have our traditional way of thinking and feeling. It's just finding ways to be able to take our people back to that way of life.

MISTY THOMAS: You're okay. I love being Dakota and I love our way of life—our language, our spiritual traditions, and everything that comes with it. To me, that's what's good for me and my family. When I took the position with social services, the two major things that I wanted to accomplish were a domestic violence shelter, which we are sitting in, and a horse program.

MAN: All right, who wants to go next?

BOY: Me.

MISTY THOMAS: Native American people have a long history with horses and in tribal history.

MAN: OK, he's making the connection now.

MISTY THOMAS: Horses have a natural healing ability, and they are able to read us better than we can read ourselves.

MAN: You're going to make that connection with her now.

MISTY THOMAS: I believe in that natural healing ability.

MAN: See the horse's body language now? That's good.

THERESA REMICK: Most of my work had to do with historical trauma and unresolved grief in Indian communities. The first time I heard about the horse program, I was interested because it said, "medicine wheel model." And I believe that our community needs to bring back those culturally specific programs in order to heal.

MISTY THOMAS: ...the spirit world. We talked a lot about the [inaudible] of the medicine... The majority of our cases are out-of-control youth that are running away, they're drinking, they're drugging, they're partying and not wanting to listen to their parents.

BOY: I wouldn't talk to anybody about my problems. And so finally, after, like, stressing and stressing and keeping everything bottled up and everything building up, I just finally broke down one day and attempted suicide.

MISTY THOMAS: We're a very small community, and so whenever there's these traumatic events, it hits our community pretty hard. We're constantly trying to deal with loss, grief, trauma.

DOUG WIDOW, DRUG AND ALCOHOL COUNSELOR, CHEYENNE RIVER LAKOTA: The horses are the big part of bringing the healing to the people. The horses and the children are considered sacred. With the two of them together, working together, inside the circle, it creates a healing. And in our language they call it [speaking Dakota]—"Something sacred moving inside the circle."

BOY: I liked it. Like, I didn't know what to expect, and I actually really liked it—trying to communicate without talking or touching them, try to get the horse to warm up and make the horse feel like it can trust you. And so, I actually liked that.

DOUG WIDOW: A lot of times you won't see the outcome till years down the road. And so what we're doing now is planting the seed, and it's fun to watch it grow.

WYATT THOMAS: If we want to walk a better way of life for our children, then we need to open our eyes and see what we're doing to our own self as we walk on this land.

DEWAYNE WABASHA, ISANTI DAKOTA: I was using methamphetamines. I was so into the drug that, you know, nothing else mattered. And I have seven kids, you know. One of my daughters, she grabbed my arms, she said, "Dad—" She said, "I don't want—" She just said, "I don't want you to go away with those monsters." You know, I was... I looked at her, you know. You know, I looked at her and I wanted to say, "What are you talking about? What are you..." But I understood what she said as soon as she said it, you know.

RICK THOMAS: It's a hard thing to talk about. And I think that's one of the problems with our people is talking about things that really affect us, you know, sharing that. To help our people, to help our youth, they have to see it and then feel it—you know, whatever they're experiencing. So basically, what that is, reliving in order to live. They have to go back and retract their whole lifestyle.

DEWAYNE WABASHA: Right now, when I think back, you know, to the things that I've done, you know, it brings tears to my eyes, you know.

GIRL: Dad, Simona has only one glove on.

DEWAYNE WABASHA: I got all these kids, man, you know, and I don't want to die, you know, leave these kids alone at a young age like that. So I had to do something, right? I had my kids taken away from me, like, twice.

MISTY THOMAS: I was there when we had to do that removal of his kids. It was one of those ending points where it was just like, "I'm really going to do something now. I'm really going to change this for myself and my kids." And so I've seen him make that—that change.

DEWAYNE WABASHA: I've been volunteering for Fatherhood is Sacred. First I was court-ordered in my past because of my drug use and being incarcerated and stuff like that. And after I graduated from there, you know, I just kept coming back. Remember you gave us those worksheets? Things that we're going to have to work on and steps we're taking to do that. You know, remember I said one of them is to treat people how I want to be treated? You know, I forget that, you know? Especially when something gets triggered in me.

MISTY THOMAS: I don't believe in pushing anything on anybody. But I believe that there's a lot of good that comes out of our traditional spiritual practices.

DEWAYNE WABASHA: I'm thankful for a lot of things. And what matters to me most nowadays is my children, my spirituality, you know, my life, my family. I understand it's gonna take a long time. I just want to care for people, you know—love. You know, I'm growing, you know, each and every day.

DOUG WIDOW: We all need to help each other and encourage each other like we do with the horses and the children. It's hard for us today, but maybe these children will be able to do that, and maybe we’ll be able to see that in the future. That's my hope is that these young children will be able to help each other and encourage each other and to be a better people.

MISTY THOMAS: There is hope for change and hope for a lot of healing and relearning how to live a good life.

Date Created: June 16, 2020