By Grace Rosebud

"Now all we can do is go forward from that."

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Of all the virtues that the Lakota have, which one means the most to you?

Probably Bravery


Why is that?

It’s hard to be brave. When you have to, it will leave a big impact on your life.


Were there times in your life when you had to be brave?

Oh yeah. Multiple times.


Can you tell us about that? Or a time when you saw your Mom be really brave?

Right now. She got her priorities in order and it takes a lot of bravery to do that. We all lose ourselves sometimes, and we don’t know how to come back to reality. In order to do that, we have to brave enough to face our responsibilities and the consequences, which can be good or bad. Over the summer, I’ve seen a lot of bravery from my mom. She is sober, and she put her sobriety first. And she put me first. It’s heart warming because it’s left a big change in her life. And now all we can do is go forward from that. And let each other grow as individuals, and just live.


What’s your favorite thing about your Mom?

Everything. She’s my mom. I’ve lived with her my whole life. I guess, when she starts something she has to finish it. I like that about her, because most people procrastinate a lot, like me.


Can you tell us why you wanted to start beading?

I started when I was eleven years old. It just came about. My mom wanted to teach me and I guess I wanted to learn. After school I would start beading. Now, I choose to bead because I’m sixteen and I want to help my Mom. There’s stuff we need and we don’t have income, so the only way to get money is to bead, so that’s what we do.


What was your favorite moment from yesterday?

The whole day. You guys are goofy!


What does being Lakota mean to you?

To me it means a lot of things. I’m proud of being Lakota as an individual, I don’t know about as a tribe. A lot of our people do bad things which leaves a bad reputation for all of us. There’s not much we can do about that really except to be good as an individual and help others. Some people are hard to help because they don’t want to help themselves, so that gets tiring because I see these people on the streets and I see druggies and it makes me wonder how they could live like that all the time. It’s traumatic to those around us, especially to the younger children. When they grow up, they won’t know the difference between good and bad, because all they grew up seeing was the negativity. They just grow up as confused children, because they just don’t know, until someone good comes and shows them how to live their life positively and what to do instead of being stuck in the same cycle. 


You were talking about going to school. What gives you hope and what do you dream of becoming?

I’ve had a lot of therapists and counselors. Some of them are harder to relate to because they’ve never experienced it themselves. It always irked me because they said, “I understand. I know what you’ve been through.” It irritated me because they don’t. they grew up without seeing the things I’ve seen or experienced. I always shut myself down to that because I thought, “what’s the point of opening up to you when you’re just going to write it down in a book and next week I’ll say the same thing.” So, what I’ve gone through makes me want to go into that field of psychology because I can not only relate to them on that level but because I made it out. I don’t do most of the stuff I used to anymore. I’ve grown as an individual. I know the differences between a lot of things. And I liked what you said yesterday because it’s true, “the only way out of poverty is education.” I have a friend that’s not in poverty who lives in Nebraska. I went and visited him this summer and he had the nicest house I had ever seen. It was nice. And he had a job.

I would like to live like that someday or be somewhere like that, and put most of my childhood away. I try to avoid it a lot because there’s nothing I could do about it. Just not repeat it in the next generation to my children. I want to live somewhere that can help me grow. Because you can’t grow if you don’t feel comfortable. You have to be comfortable in your habitat. 

"Talk to these women about what they can do and what they can accomplish. They don't know that. They need to know that."

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What was your visit to the women’s prison like?

It was awesome going up there and seeing those women. We worked with a woman named Cierra, she’s a non-native, but she’s the one who started this club that they have in the prison. Every year they do a spiritual service. It has to do with the culture, the healing in the culture, and they do it all week. They called us and asked us to come because they had seen our mini-dress workshop. She got all of these speakers to come up, every day for a week they did something for the women’s culture, whether they are Lakota, Nakota or Dakota. It didn’t matter.


What was your role there?

I don’t know where they saw our mini-dress workshop but they invited us up to do it. To me, the mini-dress workshop is really good when it comes to healing because these women are sitting there and making these dresses and thinking about what happened to them and how far they’ve come. They’ve been through so much and here they are surviving, sitting there and making this dress. They come out with some awesome, beautiful dresses. Then they tell a little story. We tell them, “write whatever inspires you. What helped you heal? What do you think you need more of?” one lady just put, “survived.” That word in itself is big. So yeah, that mini-dress workshop is very good to help with healing and thinking about everything.


The women gave you the earrings you’re wearing, right?

Yes, they honored us and were so appreciative to have us there. So when we were getting ready to leave, one of the guards asked if we could wait because they wanted to give us a gift. So one of the ladies had us go up front and made a pretty big honoring about it. They gave us all different gifts. It was really good.


Did you participate in the healing ritual when you were there?

No, they didn’t have one when we were there. You asked Jan about the Sage and why we use it, well the Lakota believed that everything has a spirit. Even the rocks we use. The water that we pour on those rocks has a spirit. The cedar that we throw on the rocks has a spirit. The steam that comes up, that has a spirit. So when we’re praying, we’re sending our spirit up to Watanoka so that he can hear the prayers.


When did you get involved with White Buffalo Calf?

In 2014 I got a job with White Buffalo Calf as a child advocate. It was a new grant that Janet had written and it was only supposed to last a year. So I worked for about a year before the grant was up. I took the position of sexual advocate.


What’s the toughest part of your job?

It was tough being a sexual advocate. I’m not anymore because of the heart attack; I couldn’t take the stress. That’s really a stressful job. These ladies go out in the middle of the night and could be out there at 3 or or 4 o clock in the morning. It didn’t matter, when you got the call, you go. You take on their pain and all their everything. What they go through, you go through because you’re there from day one. From the time they call you, to the time you take them home, to the day they go to court. You’re there all the time with that lady. Now I’m a facilitator for Her House.


What’s the best part of your job?

The best thing I like about it is this; having you guys here. Having this wonderful opportunity for these women. You don’t know what I go through to try to get them to come over here and do something. Nobody wants to come over and sew or anything. So, if they’re going to make money for themselves and be able to sustain themselves then that’s good. And, I can’t think of anything that I don’t like. I’m here for community members that come and want clothes, and it makes me feel good to help them clothe their family. Her House is awesome.


What was your favorite part about today?

Meeting you guys. Putting those beautiful faces to those beautiful voices. Just listening to you, Em, talk to these women about what they can do and what they can accomplish, because they don’t know that. They need to know that. Having you here made it all real. I kept telling them, but I don’t know if they believed me. Hearing it from you made it all more real.


Is there a proverb or something that your Mom told you that is special?

I can’t think of anything, but I will tell you, Janet’s mom is my aunt. I was fighting with the housing because I got evicted. They tested my place and it was positive for meth, but they had never tested it before I moved in. Her mom told me, “Debbie, stop being an Indian. Fight!” So, I did. She had a big impact on my life. 

"We provide a really safe space for them to be able to be the artists that they are."


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I never got to five foot and I never got quiet.


Tell us about the Sage ritual

Look what the people use: plants and nature. And look how we relate to the world. Look how we relate to good and bad things that happen to us. When we’re working with women, whether they come to us in the shelter or we’re responding to an emergency situation, we use the knowledge of the plants that was passed down through generations. One of the plants that we like to utilize is sage. Sage naturally grows in this area and certainly across the plains. Sage comes in different types. The sage in the Southwest is different from the Sage that grows here. But we use Sage in a way to expel any negativity or harm that’s been done to somebody.

A lot of the women that we serve have suffered multiple traumas. If they’re coming to us for help it’s usually during an emergency situation, where they have been beaten or raped. When we use Sage, it’s not going to solve all of their problems, but it does have a very calming effect. We use it to help reduce anxiety. When someone is traumatized their adrenaline is at a high level and Sage helps balance that out. What we do when responding to emergency situations is we will give them some sweet grass, some sage, some lavender the shell in a little packet and tell them how to use it so that they can take it with them. Even if we never see them again, they will at least have something to help them with their healing.


The process of the Sage Ritual:

You can use it in a variety of ways. We like to put it in an Abalone shell, we crumple it all together and then we light it. We surround the person in the smoke of the Sage. It’s called smudging we smudge ourselves using our hands to make the smoke cover our bodies, cover our head, and cover our hair which is a sacred part of us. We breathe that in. Even our young children are taught how to sage ourselves off. It’s very natural. We don’t just use it in emergency situations. It’s always used in prayer, when people are praying as a group and at any of our ceremonies. But we also use it in another way. If I have a woman who has been severely traumatized, I will take the sage and rub down her body. Starting from her head, her hair, her back, her front, her arms, her legs, her feet. I just pray with her and ask our grandfather or our relatives, to help give her strength. To remove some of the anxiety. To help her begin healing.

Then we like to give it to them, and not everyone knows how to use it, so we give her instructions on how to use it. Public places don’t like you to light up Sage, so you can also take the Sage off of the stem, rub it in your hands, and rub it all over yourself. Rub your hair down, your face, your arms, the rest of your body. That is the same thing as actually lighting it and smudging yourself. I’m not an expert on it, but we use it as a regular practice in our shelter. We sage every morning, both the staff and the children. And when things get tough, if there’s been something really traumatic happening to our women or to our staff that just feel the burden, we’ll say, “ let’s just smudge it off.” And we will light some sage and take it around, and it’s just almost an instant calming affect. It’s important not to pull it out by the roots. We want to make sure there are plants left so the seeds will be there so we can have more.


Is Sage the only plant used?

There are other things we use, like lavender. That’s not a traditional plant to us, but we know and have learned from other people that lavender has that same kind of effect of anti-anxiety. So we can put that in a shell and show the women how to use that to smudge off. The aroma, and it’s the same way with sage too, is anti-anxiety. We also use Cedar and sweet grass, which is a plant that grows in moister areas, like in boughs. We use that also.


Can you tell us about the Sweat Lodge?

It’s something that we offer. We try to do it at least once a month. We use wood and rocks that are heated outside in a fire pit. We have a covered lodge that we use. There’s rituals to it: like the way you go into the lodge, and how you sit down. I am not the leader, we usually have someone come in that has the experience and the knowledge about how to run a sweat. They come in and support the women. And it’s really about prayer, the whole thing is about prayer. You go in there, and it symbolizes the womb. We are taken back to that place and it is cleansing because it’s like a steam bathe. They take the hot rocks, put it into the pit and there’s all kinds of rituals that are part of that, and then we use water to pour over the rocks and then there’s steam. The steam cleanses you. There’s usually four different rounds of prayers and it’s done differently depending on who is running it. We don’t do mixed sweats, we have purely women or men sweats, some people do but we don’t. But everybody in the circle gets an opportunity to pray. If they don’t want to say anything out loud they can pray in their own way.


Did you grow up doing Sweats?

That’s not something that I grew up with, but I’ve learned through the last 30 years that participating, when I do, you just can’t describe it. When you come out your heart is lifted, your heaviness if you go in there with heaviness it helps lift your spirit. I think it’s also because everybody else in there is praying for you too. Especially if you’re struggling or have grief or trauma you feel the support of everybody else in there with you. It’s uplifting in that way too. Whether it’s in grief or trauma we often feel we’re alone, but its’ a place where you can feel that you’re getting support. As a Lakota person who didn’t grow up traditionally, it’s very special to me. I know people that sweat every week, that participate in ceremonies all the time, I don’t necessarily participate that way, but when I do need to it’s awesome that we have the ability to help our staff and the women and children that we serve. That’s really part of our cultural healing so we’re so glad that we have the ability to do that.


Can you talk about the state of the women when they come to you?

I’m going to speak hypothetically about the women because we really try to maintain confidentiality. But, women come to us probably at the worst times of their lives. Some are severely injured, I mean we have women that have come with broken bones, legs, arms, backs, necks. They may not report their injuries to the police. They need stitches, they’re bruised. Sometimes they’re unrecognizable because they’ve been battered so badly. The honor that we get from being there and serving them every day is that we get to see the changes in them. We get to see this woman who has been terrified and harmed from so badly by someone who they believed loved them. We get to see her grow. We don’t always succeed. They will go back to their batterers and situations. A lot of the women we serve have mental health issues so they’re easily victimized and re-victimized. And that’s across the board, across the country. Mental health issues are unfortunately horrific for women in this country because people take advantage of them. Drugs and alcohol addictions are also really high which can also lead to re-victimization.


How important is work in their recovery?

It’s so difficult to watch the trauma, but that’s what gives us the push to go on when you see a woman really trying to succeed and struggling to get on her feet. Because we don’t have a lot of economic opportunities here on the Rosebud, it’s hard for them if they’ve never held a job or haven’t learned job skills, then it seems insurmountable to them. I’ve worked my whole life, but I know how fearful I was when I was in my 20s and 30s and didn’t have a college education and small children and working menial jobs. Also being a victim of domestic violence myself, I know how stuck you feel economically when you can’t support your children by yourself. That’s a reason why women go back to battering situations too because they don’t have financial independence. 

If you don’t have money in your pocket or the ability to pay rent or buy food or put gas in your car, it makes you feel stuck.  This community is so wide. Our communities can be 40 miles apart from where a job site could be. If you don’t have gas money, it’s horrible. So, working with By Grace for us really means a lot to the women that we work with. It gives them an opportunity to use their talent, because they are so talented, and using the cultural aspects of our talent too. If you go to pow-wows or see our traditional regalia we’re very colorful and joyful. We love to laugh, we love humor, and I think you really see that in the things that we’re able to create.

Our women come in and that’s how they survive. They sit up until midnight, take care of their kids and bead all night so that the next day they go out in the community and ask, “will you buy my earrings? Will you buy this beautiful item that I have made?” and they’re able to get by. This is an aspect of our service: that we can provide a really safe space for them to be able to be the artists that they are and promote the wonderful things that they are trying to do with their lives. I’m telling you, I’m seeing transformation. I know that one of the ladies that was here today, a couple of months ago she was so low in her life. Just watching her joy today, seeing how excited she was about what we’re doing, she didn’t look like that when she came a couple months ago. Seeing her grow and feel good about herself, you could just see that.


Is there something your Mom told you that has inspired you?

It wasn’t what she said, it was how she lived. She became an attorney because she wanted to help people. She knew that she wanted to serve, and that’s what she did. She maintained such a level of integrity and so powerful in the way she walked her life. No matter what life threw at her, she overcame it and believed that everybody could do that and believed that we should always give back without expecting anything in return. Her life was all about service, not just to the community but to her family. She was our matriarch and gave not just to her daughters and grandchildren but to all of our extended family. She believed that it was important that she passed on whatever knowledge she had. And family was very important. And it was important for us a Lakota people to be proud of who we are. She lived that, she never had to say it. It was the way she walked her life.


Bianca (Janet’s granddaughter) has been here all day. She’s watching you and watching us and watching all of these women make a living for themselves. Is there one thing you want her to take away from today?

I hope that Bianca, even though life is not easy, I hope that when things are hard that she will remember that we will always be standing with her and by her. We will always support her. I hope she never feels lonely. I know that she’s just going to be an awesome woman.