Ain’t No Sacajewea

She stormed into the dingy t-shirt shop where her 19-year-old daughter had been hanging around with older men who said they were “taking care of her.”

Whiteeagle had had enough. She stormed into the dingy t-shirt shop where her 19-year-old daughter Lina had been hanging around with older men who said they were “taking care of her.” They were letting her party with them. They told her she was hot; they wanted her to pose for photos. They gave her money, drugs and jewelry in exchange for sex. One man insisted on giving her gold jewelry to wear, saying she was too pretty to wear “cheap shit.”

Several men were in the shop located in an area of Rapid City known for drugs and crime when Whiteeagle made her move. Lina was not there that day and Whiteeagle was alone, but she didn’t care. “I was mad and heated up. I didn’t give a shit. I told them I knew they were up to no good and I called them bad names. I told them I didn’t raise my daughter to be used by people like them!”

(Whiteeagle requested that her family’s names be changed in order to protect them from retribution by criminals or relatives.)

The men were stunned into silence, until one of them began to laugh. He then said, “I like you lady; you ain’t afraid of nothin’!”

“I told them I knew people in AIM and had several relatives who would come down here and kick their asses if they didn’t get my daughter back to me!” she said.

She then turned around abruptly and went back to her car and drove home. Later that night, a car pulled into her driveway and Lina got out and came into the house. She was angry. “You know, you’re crazy!” she screamed at her mother. “Nobody talks to those guys like that. Now they don’t want me around.”

Sullenly, she flopped into a chair in her mom’s living room. Whiteeagle was overjoyed but said little. She ran a warm bath for Lina, steeping cedar leaves in the water. Gently she guided her girl into the bathroom and bathed her in the medicine as she had been instructed by a Lakota healer. Lina seemed to grow calm; she allowed herself to be bathed, dressed and fed. She slept curled up in her bed for many hours as Whiteeagle stood guard, holding Lina’s tiny 4-month-old baby.

I visited Whiteeagle and Lina the next day. When Lina walked into the living room, wrapped from head to toe in a Pendleton blanket, she reminded me of one of the Indian extras from an old spaghetti western wandering in the background of a Hollywood-set frontier town. She had an aimless look about her. Although it was late afternoon, she had just gotten out of bed. She looked exhausted but still had an air of haughty entitlement. My presence and my attempts to make conversation clearly annoyed her. When I asked what she liked to eat, she said, “food,” in a tone that ended further discussion.

She had grown so much thinner than her Facebook pictures posted only weeks ago, which showed her wearing the tight hip-hop clothing from the t-shirt shop. But she was still beautiful, her classic Lakota face regal.

Whiteeagle spoke to us of her deep commitment to Lakota spirituality. She had been in nearly constant ceremony since Lina began disappearing from her house, spending time with the men at the t-shirt shop and using meth. “That is what always brings her back to me; I truly believe that,” Whiteeagle said.

She is always after Lina to go to ceremony with her. “I know it helps her, she always says it makes her feel better.”

‘Mom, I’m not like you; I’m not Mrs. Sacajawea, ok?” Lina said, petulantly, from her seat at the table. Although feigning disdain, it was clear Lina enjoyed her mother’s love and attention and even the visit from a strange old Auntie like me.

Lina drifted back to the bedroom as Whiteeagle held her tiny granddaughter, whose black hair resembled a tuft of baby chick fluff. Whiteeagle then told me her family’s story.

Lina was raped at age 14 on the Rosebud Reservation. An older friend lured her to a motel room where she was given Gatorade laced with ketamine, a dissociative anesthetic often used as date rape drug. Several men raped her. Afterward, she somehow managed to call her mother, who eventually found her in the motel room. Her pants were down and she had wet herself. “She was like a limp noodle; we had to carry her out of there,” Whiteeagle recalled.

Although the perpetrators were arrested and prosecuted, Whiteeagle said the experience, including testifying in court, crushed Lina’s world. “She started doing badly in school and lost interest in everything. She began to run away; we heard she was trading her body for a place to stay, for food, alcohol, cigarettes and probably drugs,” Whiteeagle said. “Giving her body away became nothing to her.”

Just prior to Lina’s rape, Whiteeagle herself had been brutally raped and assaulted by a medicine man. Her family was close to the man and pressured her not to report the attack to the police. Whiteeagle was devastated by the lack of support from her family regarding her assault by the medicine man. She was not emotionally available to help Lina. “At that time, I had kids to take care of and I was struggling with my own trauma,” she said. “Maybe if I had been stronger, this wouldn’t have happened to Lina.”

Eventually, Whiteeagle was able to find the strength to leave her abusive husband and distance herself from her family. She began to heal herself and return to prayer. “I decided I was not going to let those men take away my culture and spirituality,” she explained. “I made a vow to the Creator for blessing me with life again, a vow to help my daughter heal.”

She uses Facebook to keep track of Lina. I’ve looked at her page as well: Lina’s postings are always the same—extreme close-up selfies taken at endlessly changing locations.

Despite her maddening attraction to drugs and risky sex, Lina always circles back home. Whiteeagle notes that she often returns home during her “moon time,” when the men have little use for her, or when she is just played out and has nowhere else to go. “It’s our spirituality we practice here that brings her back; she can’t resist it,” the determined mom said.

“When she stays with us here, she begins to bond with her baby,” Whiteeagle maintains. Lina had her baby during a brief relationship a few months ago. Whiteeagle had hopes that Lina and the young man might settle down and raise the baby together but it was not to be. The relationship ended. “The young man is not involved with the baby,” Whiteeagle said. “Sometimes she cries after she’s been sober for awhile. I think it’s just too painful for her to think about; she has no coping skills.”

After a few days at home, Lina will get irritable and begin pacing. “That’s when I know she’s going to leave again,” Whiteeagle said. She complains about the family’s focus on ceremony. “You’re too spiritual; you have to walk in the real world,” Lina tells her mother. She insists she can care for herself and her baby in her own way.

On the day before I left town she announced she was going to take the baby with her. “I told her, ‘Over my dead body!’” Whiteeagle said. “’I’m not going to let you hurt this baby!’”

I got a call later that night: Lina had left again. A few weeks ago, Whiteeagle told me Lina was in jail for possession and use of meth.

Although some drug programs encourage family to push their drug-addicted children away, Whiteeagle said she has been taught differently. “Rather than spending time trying to disconnect from her, I nurture that spiritual bond I have with her,” she said. “Her Indian name is First Breath Woman. That breath will always connect us. I will always know where to find her.”

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