Lakota healing program aims to keep incarceration numbers down

Local News

RAPID CITY, S.D. (KELO) — Pennington County is trying something new to fight rising jail numbers in the Native American community.

The Seven Directions Lakota Culture initiative introduces traditional Native American recovery classes instead of prosecution of some drug possession defendants.

“The recidivism rate on methamphetamine and on heroin is horrible nationwide, if we succeed 20 percent of the time, we will be a model for the nation, but the only thing that is going to give us a chance at that is to reach out and find these people where they are,” Pennington County State’s Attorney Mark Vargo said.

Seven Directions is a 10-week program. Each week, Chissie Spencer and Ruth Cedar Face plan something different including Lakota ceremonies, like burning sage or smudging.

“Then at the end when they graduate, we have a naming ceremony, that way they can pick somebody in the class or pick somebody that works there, to tie their feather and they get a Lakota name,” Spencer said.

After 10 weeks, the participants graduate. However, the program doesn’t stop there.

“You don’t just have to complete the program, you then have to stay out of the system for at least a year, if you can do that usually you never come back,” Vargo said.

Since last spring, Spencer and Cedar Face have completed five, 10 week classes and two Diversion classes.

“There’s been so much trauma in their life and there is not enough counselors that they try to escape from everything, they don’t want to deal with real issues of the reflection of who they are and that’s one of the things that we teach, is you have to stop and look at who you are,” Spencer said.

We spoke with one of the graduates from Seven Directions who says the program helped him to identify his strengths and weaknesses. He says he continues to do the program because it helps him.

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