Tag Archives: inipi

Doing Good Work

Screenshot of online article

I had another piece in this past Sunday’s Life section I’m proud* enough to share. After the story on George Eagleman and his ITCA group was published, I got a message from the president of the Native American Council of Tribes to do a story on the work they do from inside the state pen. While I was honored they recognized my writing as beneficial to and for the Native community, my expectations were low. I thought if anything, it’d be a bunch of guys praying behind bars telling me they were saved. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s a tough sell to an editor, and therefore readers.

Imagine my surprise when it turned out this group – NACT – was actually up to some good work, not just within the prison walls, but the community, as well. Really good work. Like, getting kids scholarship money for college. And putting together community celebrations to honor fallen heroes. Better still was the impact on other inmates – NACT is known for its Lakota spirituality teaching skills. Incarcerated Native men at the county jail raised outside of their culture look forward to going to prison because of the spiritual teachings awaiting them.

On one hand, it’s sad that the best place to be educated in the Lakota ways is prison. On the other, considering Natives make up a large, disproportionate number of the prison population (nearly 30 percent statewide, while Native adults are less than 10 percent of the total state population), these are teachings that should and must be available to these men (and women/youth). Everyone I spoke with for this story talked about how getting in touch with their Lakota ways has helped them more than any other treatment available to them. Considering our culture was systematically and methodically smothered by the dominant society since First Contact, it’s no wonder why so many Native men and women (and youth) are lost to drugs and alcohol, which account for a majority (53%) of the adult crimes committed in South Dakota. You’d think state lawmakers, educators, and the community at large would recognize the need to create legitimate curriculum on Native American history/culture/government/law/art/food/etc., in order to create better potential for successful adulthood among Native Americans. Like, “Let’s teach them this stuff BEFORE they turn to alcohol and drugs to fill the void in their spirits.” Concept?! Having taught the Native American Connections curriculum for the Sioux Falls School District, I know some administrations are trying. But not hard enough – it’s not enough. Not yet.

Getting to know the men of NACT was a lesson in hope. They know how bad their criminal records look. They hurt people. They’re in prison for a reason. But they’re doing what they can to not only make themselves better people, but to help others. Long-time inmates teach newcomers how to build the sweat lodge, how to prepare tobacco ties, how to make regalia and Lakota crafts, they encourage each other to get educated and earn their GEDs, they run relay races for the memory of an 11-year-old girl none of them have met, they read through hundreds of applications and award an aspiring college student $500 every year, they sponsor and plan a community feed and memorial for two heroes no one else in this town has thought to honor…

And they pray.

*I did not choose the title. I would never have put “Indian” in the title to refer to the sovereign tribal nations of America. Hey, South Dakota! 1492 called. It wants its maps back. 😐

Screen Shot Robert Horse, NACT president


By Jonnie Taté Walker
For the Argus Leader

Robert Horse was 19 years old when he built his first sweat lodge for a Lakota inipi ceremony.

He watched as the willow poles were pulled and stretched in such a way that an eight-point star formed at the top of the lodge before it was covered with canvas and tarp.

“Some people think you just put the poles in the ground and bunch them up and you’re done,” said Horse, affiliated with the Oglala Sioux Tribe and now 29. “But there’s a certain way to do it; the way our ancestors did it.”

His first lodge, and all the lodges Horse helps to rebuild every spring, are located inside the tall barbed-wire fences of the South Dakota State Penitentiary, otherwise known as the Hill.

Now the president of the Native American Council of Tribes Inc., Horse teaches inmates new to Lakota traditions and ceremonies how to build a sweat lodge, how to make prayer flags and tobacco ties, and how to pray in a language struggling to survive.

“Back home on the rez there was lots of ceremonies and sweats going on, but youth aren’t educated on what was really going on or why,” Horse said in one of several phone interviews from the Hill.

Horse thinks this lack of culture and knowledge of Lakota ways is a major reason Native Americans account for a disproportionately high percentage of prison inmates in South Dakota: 29 percent for adults, according to the 2012 annual report from the Department of Corrections.

This keeps Horse, his executive board and other members motivated to make NACT what one prison official calls the most active religious and advocacy group on the Hill. But it’s the group’s efforts reaching outside the walls that make it a unique rehabilitation and educational tool, Horse said.

On Friday, NACT will sponsor a community gathering and feed honoring Kimberly Rose Means, an 11-year-old Pine Ridge girl killed in 1981 while participating in efforts to support the religious rights of Native American inmates, as well as Lyle Eagle Tail and Madison Wallace, who died March 14 in a heroic effort to save Wallace’s younger brother from drowning at Falls Park.

This will be NACT’s first time sponsoring such an event outside the prison walls, and it’s being organized by statewide groups and local NACT supporters. However, the group created and has overseen the Kimberly Rose Means scholarship since 1987, awarded annually through an endowment from the Sioux Falls Area Community Foundation. In addition, NACT members and non-Native inmates participate in an annual relay in memory of Kimberly Rose Means.

“It’s not always easy to do something good in a bad place,” said Cody DeSersa, NACT’s secretary. “But there’s a big payoff when you see the good it does for the brothers in here and for families outside.”

Establishing freedoms

Native American inmates haven’t always had the freedom to practice their spirituality and perform ceremonies on the Hill. Long hair was cut, medicine bags were banned and the sacred pipe — akin to a Bible — was not allowed inside the walls.

“There was a time when the state did not allow the Native American Indian inmates to practice the religion of their choice,” said Rosebud Siouxtribal member Roscoe Primeaux in a letter written from prison. Primeaux is 32 years into serving a life sentence and remembers the early years of NACT.“It was taboo to even think of an Indian doing his ceremonies since the more common religious activity was only Christian.”

That all changed in the ’70s.

In 1972, Native American inmates were part of a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court — Crowe v. Erickson — requesting access and money to pay for medicine men, ceremonies, cultural classes and spiritual paraphernalia, among other civil rights. In May 1977, the state agreed, even allowing furloughs for inmates seeking participation in sundances on their reservations.

A year later, the federal government passed the American Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1978, which established protections to preserve the traditional religious rights and cultural practices of Native Americans. These rights include, but aren’t limited to, access to sacred sites, use and possession of objects considered sacred and freedom to worship through ceremonial and traditional rites, including within prisons.

“That is how NACT Inc. came into existence, and a sacred sweat lodge was constructed inside the South Dakota State Penitentiary,” Primeaux recalled. “And we were allowed our sacred pipe of peace.”

Five executive board members, including a group pipe carrier, and seven council members serve as NACT’s elected officials who meet once a month. Anyone can participate in the quarterly meetings, and Horse said NACT considers all of the prison’s 180-some Native American inmates as group members, even if they don’t participate regularly.

Through the years, a few privileges have been removed, including the sundance furloughs, because some inmates were abusing their time away from prison, Primeaux said. The state also discontinued funding religious activities as more faith groups were established inside the walls.

NACT and two Native American plaintiffs filed suit after the state issued a blanket ban of tobacco in Department of Corrections facilities in 2000, including tobacco used in tribal ceremonies. NACT recently won the case, and Native American inmates are allowed to use mixtures that include 1 percent of tobacco to be smoked in the sacred pipe or used for tobacco ties and prayer.

In addition, NACT members and other Native American inmates on the Hill continue to enjoy access to spiritual leaders, can participate in the inipi ceremony and host wacipi celebrations, or powwows, among other religious freedoms.

“It’s important to have groups created inside prisons working together for positive reasons,” said Hope Johnson, who oversees cultural and religious programming as the corrections program and contracts manager for the penitentiary. “Inmates don’t often have positive people to associate with, and this gives them the opportunity to create good while incarcerated.”

Johnson thinks NACT, which was established in 1976 as one of the first Native American religious groups in the country, is the most active of the prison’s eight religious groups.

“For me, it’s powerful to watch these inmates find a reason to change,” Johnson said.

Practices at prison

Built next to the prison’s recreation yard is the NACT sweat lodge. It’s big enough to hold about 30 worshippers and is used for an inipi ceremony twice a week during recreation time. The lodge, including the patch of earth surrounding it, sits on land comparable in size to its Christian chapel counterpart inside the prison.

Twenty-two-year-old Lucas Waugh, a Rosebud Sioux tribal member serving a 25-year prison sentence, participates in the inipi ceremony and is one of NACT’s youngest members.

“I sweat every week,” Waugh said during a recent roundtable interview at the prison with NACT members. “It clears my mind. It helps me be better. It lets me pray for the people who are suffering.”

This past month, Waugh signed on to run the prison relay race in honor of Kimberly Rose Means. NACT organizes the noncompetitive race annually at the prison beginning in early May and draws about two dozen inmates — Native and non-Native — to participate.

The inmates track their laps — four-and-a-half laps to a mile — and will tally up the total on Friday. The goal is 350 miles, the distance between Rapid City and Sioux Falls, to symbolize support for Native American inmates across the state.

Running alongside and sometimes himself holding the NACT eagle staff, Waugh laps the outer rim of the prison yard four miles a day. He and other NACT members will pass the staff to community members Friday, when it will be taken to Falls Park for the memorial gathering and feed.

“It’s an honor for me to run for a reason, for a purpose,” Waugh said. “I had no purpose before I came in here. That wasn’t me before. This is the true me now.”

Growth, maturity

Mary Montoya was introduced to NACT 20 years ago when, as a CPA, she volunteered to help the group apply for its 501(c)3 nonprofit status.

Today, she is the prison chapel volunteer for Native Americans, or NACT’s “hands and feet,” she said with a smile. Among other duties, Montoya helps the group gather donations for the sweat lodge and prayer and coordinates correspondence between NACT and the public.

“I was a volunteer at the county jail for three years, and it always amazed me how interested and eager men were to get to the prison so they could learn the Native ways,” Montoya said.

In her 20 years of volunteering with NACT, Montoya has noticed more — and younger — inmates participating in the group.

“When you see them growing and maturing, when they start accepting responsibility along with their culture and religion, that’s a great feeling as a volunteer,” Montoya said.

Horse, who has chaired NACT twice in the 14 years he’s been in prison, is proud of the work his group accomplishes.

“I wish I could say we all had a better beginning,” said Horse, who was 16 when he was handed a life sentence that was reversed in 2002 when the South Dakota Supreme Court said law enforcement questioned Horse illegally without parental notice or consent. He now is serving a 40-year prison term.

“I have to deal with what I did every second of the day. I am reminded about what I did every second of the day. I’m going to repay all my life through service to the people,” said Horse, who crafts pieces of Lakota beadwork in his spare time. “How we got here, we’re not proud of that. But we’re able to make a difference now with the time we have left.”

Horse, in particular, is credited by many members of NACT for his passion in keeping the group active and focused. He spends hours typing letters and agendas and newsletters for NACT, coordinates speakers for the group’s spiritual conferences and ensures that his board is doing good work in the prison.

“In these positions, our behavior is watched closely by the other inmates,” said DeSersa, who is serving a 15-year sentence. “That alone helps keep me out of trouble, because you never want to disrespect the board.”

DeSersa, an enrolled member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, stays on point by tutoring inmates in GED coursework, showing others how to make traditional regalia and encouraging new inmates to seek spiritual guidance through NACT.

“Men are able to learn and grow here,” DeSersa said. “Even me. I’ve become more aware of my culture and spirituality through my involvement with NACT. It gives me a chance to be 38 — now almost 39 — years old, and not thinking I’m 22 years old like I used to act.”

Back in society

Drinking and drugs landed Gary Weddell in the prison system when he was 17 years old back in 1973. He served what he called three tours on the Hill, his last stint from 1984 to 1998.

“Young people — sometimes we think we know everything when we’re young,” said the Yankton Sioux man, now 57 of Sioux Falls, who credits NACT and family support with his success both in and outside the walls. “When I went in the third time, I was really focused on the culture, and I had a daughter I needed to change for.”

Johnson said this is why groups like NACT are supported and encouraged by prison officials.

“Our goal is to rehabilitate, and see inmates be better people,” Johnson said of the activities NACT and other religious groups organize. “It’s our job to provide inmates opportunities so they may continue growing while in the community. What they learn here can help them face challenges on the outside.”

Weddell recalled NACT’s creation and evolution through the years, describing it as a living entity and a savior to struggling Native American inmates. He remains an active NACT supporter and is helping to organize the community gathering at Falls Park by collecting donations of food and lining up speakers for the event.

“When you step into the sweat lodge for the first time, there’s an understanding that you can be reborn right there, that you go into that sweat and pray and believe,” said Weddell, whose early years were spent in an abusive boarding school atmosphere.

“I didn’t know anything about sweat lodges or sacred pipes growing up,” he said. “… That’s the same for a lot of Indian guys going to prison. We don’t know the good way to live and pray. For me, (NACT) gave me life. I would probably be dead now if it weren’t for them and what I learned from them spiritually.”


If you go
What: A free community gathering and feed will take place to honor the lives and sacrifices of Kimberly Rose Means, Lyle Eagle Tail and Madison Wallace. The gathering is sponsored by the Mankato Memorial Riders and the Native American Council of Tribes. 
When: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Friday. 
Where: Falls Park. 
Cost: Free.

About NACT
The Native American Council of Tribes Inc. is a 501(c)3 nonprofit operating out of the South Dakota State Penitentiary in Sioux Falls. It provides religious, cultural and educational opportunities to inmates and the public. It depends on monetary and in-kind donations to complete its outreach and spiritual efforts. 
NACT is in need of items related to the inipi ceremony. Sage bundles, firewood and large rocks are of particular importance; however, donations of cedar, sweet grass, buffalo meat, bitterroot, red willow and bear root are also appreciated. 
For information on making an in-kind or cash donation, contact NACT volunteer Mary Montoya at 605-332-0147.

About the Kimberly Rose Means Scholarship
This scholarship benefits graduating high school seniors who are enrolled members of a South Dakota Native American tribe or South Dakota tribal members who are returning to school after an absence. Applicants must: 
• Plan to attend an accredited college, university or vocational school 
• Have a cumulative GPA of 2.0 or higher 
• Have participated in school and community activities (only applies to high school seniors) 
• Have the desire and ability to accomplish his or her goals 
• Award: $500 
• Deadline: March 
From the Sioux Falls Area Community Foundation, http://www.sfacf.org

Wambli Wakan Wi
The NACT Freedom Singers drum group performs this song every year to honor Kimberly Rose Means:
Little sister, little sister
Dream me a song to sing while I run
For all my relations I will run
For all my relations I will run
Little sister, look at me
No prison walls can hold me when I run
For all my relations I will run
For all my relations I will run
The road to freedom lies within
Little sister, for you I will run
Little sister, for you I will run
Until I can run no more.

George Eagleman, hero

Writing for the local newspaper three or four times a year gives me the title of freelance journalist. I worked roughly eight years at regional dailies before giving it up for nonprofit work. Still, I love to write, and the egomaniac in me loves seeing a byline. Freelance pay is a joke, considering how many hours I work on any given story, but I don’t do it for the pay. Because I get to choose my own adventure with freelancing, it’s stories I want to write, and the editors are much smoother to work with when you’re not on their weekly payroll.

When I was working at the Lincoln Journal Star a few years ago, I had a wonderful editor named Peter Salter. He was/is a fabulous storyteller (and human being), and helped me grow as a narrative writer. I’m still working on reaching the level of journalistic poetry he’s capable of, but with this latest Argus Leader Sunday Life piece published today, I feel pretty good about the end product. On one level, it’s a piece totally driven by me. I pitched it, I wrote it, I directed the art, and the editor left it nearly untouched. I love it, because on the other level, it’s a story about a Native American man doing good work for our community. It’s not a breaking news update about a casino robber who’s “described” as a Native American male, or an obituary piece on yet another youth who took her own life, or a too-little-too-late story of an unsung hero jumping into frigid waters.

I was lured to the journalism profession with the promise that more Native writers would mean better, fairer, and more balanced newsrooms covering Indian Country. While some progress has been made, there is a long – LONG – way to go. I will always remember the editor who, after I pitched a string of Native-centered stories, told me, “Yeah, well, we just had an Indian story run last weekend. We need to keep the ethnic stories spaced out.” I balked: “If race is the standard by which we create the budgets, then we’ve done way too many white stories. Like, every day.”

Freelancing allows me to get stories like this into mainstream media, with the hope more like it (by more writers) are printed and broadcast. I hope you enjoy.

(Reprinted from Argus Leader Media, published 3/31/13)

George Eagleman - Photo taken by Melissa Sue Gerrits
George Eagleman – Photo taken by Melissa Sue Gerrits

George Eagleman: Lakota leader

Treatment counselor is the backbone of a new Native American center, semiweekly sweat lodge ceremonies and a lot more in Sioux Falls

Written by Jonnie Taté Walker

For the Argus Leader

It’s a recent Saturday morning in Sioux Falls, and George Eagleman is working his way through an agenda of the Inter-Tribal Cultural Alliance Inc. He gets to an item regarding a new program someone says can’t happen until the alliance pays the venue’s utility bill.

Without missing a beat and still discussing the logistics of the new program, Eagleman, president of Inter-Tribal Cultural Alliance (ITCA), pulls two $20 bills out of his wallet and lays them unceremoniously on the table.

Something unspoken happens among Eagleman and the other ITCA board members and guests. Others around the table take cash from their own pockets, and soon a collection of bills is stacked neatly in front of the group’s secretary, Kari Ann Boushee.

“There,” Eagleman pronounces. “The utilities are paid.” And just like that, the new program — a 16-week culturally- and spiritually-based curriculum teaching Lakota language and traditional activities — has a functional building to begin classes.

This interaction encompasses Eagleman’s leadership style in a nutshell: a mix of traditional Lakota values, business suave and no-nonsense grandpa-knows-best. At 67 years old, Eagleman has no intention of slowing down.

He’s just getting started.

Somewhere between leading the active and blooming ITCA, obtaining his doctorate in counseling, teaching college-level Native-studies classes and working to bring what he and others hope will be the state’s largest Native American festival to Sioux Falls later this fall, Eagleman has time to impart life lessons to his nine grandchildren and conduct inipi, or sweat lodge, a churchlike dome for Lakota prayer and ceremony.

“I think (Eagleman) is a very patient leader,” says Boushee, a member of North Dakota’s Spirit Lake Tribe. “He listens to everything before he launches into or initiates something. When a leader like George comes around, when they’re interested in everyone’s input and not in it for themselves alone, that’s a great leader.”

Source of help and hope

To the Native people Eagleman has worked with in the past 20 years, he is more than a cultural minister, counselor and leader. Many are recent transplants from area reservations, where they left crippling poverty and unemployment rates, dependency on government welfare programs and large networks of supportive family.

Boushee was herself new to Sioux Falls after moving from Fargo last fall and understands how frustrating it can be not knowing where to go or who to ask for resources.

“In Fargo, we had the Native American Commission with city council and the Native American Center,” Boushee says. “These were places I could go and sit and have coffee with other Natives, or get help finding resources.

“When I first came (to Sioux Falls), I looked for those kinds of places to help me, but I couldn’t find anything,” she says. “It was odd to me a city this size had no Native center.”

Through word-of-mouth, Boushee found her way to ITCA, to Eagleman and to the resources she needed.

Eagleman’s wife, Vicki, says helping people is as much a part of her husband as his dark eyes and hair. It is woven into the fabric of his being.

Vicki recalls how, a few years back, she and her husband unloaded their pantry and fridge of food for a man who told Eagleman he was going through a hard time and couldn’t feed his family.

“It’s just a way of life for us,” Vicki Eagleman says. “If we have it, we’ll give it.”

To Sioux Falls’ new Native American arrivals, Eagleman is an employment specialist, a housing expert, a teacher and a link to culture they’re homesick for.

“George is more than a spiritual leader, he’s a mentor,” says Cody Janis, a 23-year-old member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, after a recent inipi ceremony. Janis says he was released from jail six months ago, and he learned about Eagleman’s generosity through other inmates.

“I was looking for something like this,” Janis says, gesturing to the canvas-covered sweat lodge, piles of rocks and dying flames of the inipi grounds. “I’m going through things. … It’s a tough time right now, and I asked George if he could meet me out here, and he said sure, I’ll smoke cannupa — the pipe — with you.”

Janis’ girlfriend, Heather Plaisted, 25, also an enrolled Oglala tribal member, says Eagleman’s efforts helped to ease her family’s suffering after a 16-year-old cousin recently committed suicide.

“It’s good to have this (the sweat lodge) out here (in Sioux Falls),” says Plaisted, who kept the fire going while Janis, Eagleman and others were inside the recent inipi. “It helps with our prayers and gives everyone hope, a little bit.”

Without Eagleman, there would be no inipi ceremony offered in Sioux Falls, no way for the prayers of hurting people to reach Wakan Tanka, the Great Spirit, Plaisted, Janis, Boushee and Eagleman’s wife believe.

Not only does Eagleman make the round trip from Canton to Buffalo Ridge every Wednesday and Sunday afternoon to conduct inipi, he does so without any expectation of financial compensation.

“My belief is there is a lack of support for Natives in Sioux Falls,” explains Eagleman, an enrolled member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe. “When you move off the rez to this urban setting, the stereotyping that’s here … Natives fall into that trap. Their cultural identity gets lost. The dominant society in Sioux Falls crushes that identity.”

Service agencies, Eagleman states, belong to the dominant society. Many of those organizations don’t understand the complexities and contrasts of reservation life to urban living. The lapse in communication and understanding means Native Americans get what Eagleman calls “the runaround.”

“The stress that creates for Natives means they don’t come out to participate as a cultural society,” Eagleman explains. “And there’s a lack of trust among Natives with these organizations.”

That’s why Eagleman has struggled for more than a decade to build momentum and support for a center of Native American cultural programming — what other cities term “Indian centers,” because they provide so many on-site supports, including child care, youth programming, addiction treatment, job training and a one-stop place to come together as a community, among other services.

Eagleman hopes ITCA will be such a place for Native Americans in Sioux Falls.

“I see ITCA as a place of belonging,” Eagleman says of his 2-year-old nonprofit. “I see it as a place of direction and a place of guidance.”

From needing treatment to providing it

Alcohol has played a major role in Eagleman’s life. It crept in around the time he was drafted into the Army in 1966 during the Vietnam War.

“I got out in 1971 and went back to the rez, and all my education attempts failed,” he says. “All I did was drink.”

Tragedy struck Eagleman’s family when he was 8 years old and his father died of a stroke. His firstborn child died of pneumonia in 1968, a year after he married his first wife, whom later bore him four sons. He is the youngest of 10 children and today is the only surviving member of the immediate family he grew up with.

Eagleman sought treatment in 1981. He says he did well for a while but fell back into old habits. He lost his job as a supervisor for a housing agency and was told that if he went back into treatment, he would be reinstated.

“That was 1983. I didn’t know what treatment was back then,” Eagleman recalls. “I got home from treatment, was OK for a while, drank again, then lost the job for good a year later.”

Eagleman gave treatment one last shot, in a program with the veterans hospital in Pierre in 1985. The third time was the charm. “I decided to really dig in this time.”

He also decided to embrace his Lakota heritage and culture.

“I had to reach out to my spirituality,” Eagleman explains, a hand on his heart. “I grew up around it, but I never connected with it.”

He’s been sober ever since, and, after earning a bachelor’s in business administration in 1994 from National American University, he set out to become a counselor to others suffering from substance abuse. He received his master’s degree in counseling and criminal justice in 1996 from Colorado Technical University and is currently studying for his Ph.D. in counseling in an online program from Capella University.

To ensure that the spiritual connection flows to his descendants, Eagleman leads a family drum group, Eagle Spirit, and speaks fluent Lakota to his nine grandchildren. “They don’t know what I’m saying now, but soon enough they’ll understand.”

Thirteen years ago, Eagleman took his experience treating substance abuse clients and began offering spiritual recovery through inipi ceremony. In 2000, he partnered with the owners of Buffalo Ridge, billed as a “Cowboy Ghost Town” roadside attraction along Interstate 90 northwest of Sioux Falls. Together, they built a sweat lodge where anyone could participate. Eagleman, who helps conduct inipi every Wednesday and Sunday, says he’s seen the lodge hold up to 40 people.

Eagleman, a 19-year employee and chemical dependency counselor at Keystone Treatment Center in Canton, says his physical and spiritual paths are now going the same direction.

“Working in the service of recovery and also in the service of spirituality, I can review my path and say I’m going the right way.”

George Eagleman exits inipi. Photo by Jay Pickthorn http://www.jaypickthorn.com
George Eagleman exits inipi. Photo by Jay Pickthorn http://www.jaypickthorn.com

Creator and leader of ITCA

Eagleman merged his two passions — helping people recover from substance abuse and helping people reconnect with Lakota spirituality — in the creation of ITCA.

The organization stepped quietly onto the Sioux Falls scene two years ago after Eagleman found himself surrounded by a group of Native elders and professionals wanting to make a difference.

Led by Eagleman, ITCA’s 10-person board of directors drive most of the day-to-day business of the 501(c)(3) organization. Wellbriety meetings, a winyan (or women’s) group, an arts and crafts store and the new cultural curriculum are facilitated by ITCA, which offers its services free of charge to the public. Eagleman estimates that 50 to 100 people use ITCA services each month.

“We live in one of the most prejudicial states in the U.S., and the Native Americans who live here feel this and experience this on a daily basis. ITCA is a place where they know they are treated with respect and acceptance the minute they walk through the door, not judged at first glance,” says Jenny Williams, a recovery coach at Face It Together in Sioux Falls who facilitates

ITCA’s Women of Wellbriety group.

Williams, an enrolled member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, says ITCA helps to ease the anxiety felt by Native Americans, some of whom she knows forgo seeking assistance from agencies for fear of racism or stereotyping.

Under Eagleman’s leadership, Williams thinks ITCA and its programs are unifying Native Americans and the city they live in.

“The thing I like about ITCA is it is involving the community to help put this all together,” says Williams, who attends ITCA board meetings. “It’s the people helping the people.”

While other organizations in town offer some Native American cultural programming and might refer to outside resources, Eagleman says ITCA is unique in that it links its services under a cohesive umbrella, so the Native men, women and children who use ITCA can find most, if not all, of their needs under one roof.

ITCA operates out of an unassuming houselike building along South Minnesota Avenue. The building’s former tenant, Payday Loans, still has its bright red sign hanging above the curb outside. Eagleman doesn’t want to waste money replacing it with an ITCA marker, although that is a long-term goal of the group, he says.

Current funds go directly into operations and programming. There is no paid staff, which Eagleman says helps ensure the group is guided by passion, not monetary gain. In fact, Eagleman says ITCA is supported expressly by the financial and in-kind donations of board members and partners at this time, although the group is looking for outside funding opportunities.

“We want people to be able to depend on our services,” Boushee says. “If people leave the reservation and move to Sioux Falls, if they need counseling or child care, or a job or just a place to feel connected, we want them to know they can gain their independence with us.”

Bringing worlds together

The U.S. Census estimates there are about 4,200 people who identify as Native American living in Sioux Falls. Eagleman and others say the number is much larger, however, in part because so many Native Americans maintain a dual citizenship, of sorts, with their tribal homes.

Finding ways to bridge relations between the Native and non-Native community has also been a goal of the Sioux Falls Diversity Council, to which Eagleman was recruited a year ago to serve as a board member.

“It is my philosophy that if all leaders in our diverse communities join forces and work together … we can develop a sense of connectedness, a sense of working together as part of our growing community, where each community is being affected by other communities and where the combined community effort is greater than the efforts of individual communities,” says Juan Bonilla, president of the diversity council, who requested Eagleman’s presence on the board.

“I believe that to build a constructive and integrated community, the combined efforts from each community’s leaders are critical and essential.”

To this end, the diversity council is planning to host what it calls the first Native American Festival in Sioux Falls at the end of September. Eagleman heads that committee, which hopes to attract tens of thousands of wacipi — or powwow — dancers, drum groups, vendors and audiences.

Bonilla says like ITCA, the diversity council is committed to identifying and overcoming barriers faced by Native Americans, especially young people, in Sioux Falls. He thinks the Native American Festival — open to all — will help connect Native Americans to city resources and the greater Sioux Falls community.

“ITCA and its programs are unique and will succeed because the board is practically all Native,” Eagleman adds. “We are helping all individuals understand the Native way of life. The board has cohesiveness to it, and there’s a feeling of belonging. That’s what will bring the Sioux Falls community and its Native people closer together.”

Bringing two worlds together isn’t something that happens on its own. Sometimes, it’s a nudge. And sometimes it’s a push, Eagleman says.

At the start of ITCA’s board meeting, Eagleman rose to lead prayer in Lakota. It will not be translated.

“Those who don’t understand (the Lakota language), listen with your heart and you’ll understand.”

The prayer ends with a Lakota universal truth: “Mitakuye oyasin,” Eagleman prays.

We are all related.

Reach freelance reporter Jonnie Taté Walker atjtatewalker@gmail.com.



Age: 67
Tribe: Rosebud Sioux
Wife: Vicki, whom he met as a pen pal in the early ’90s. She is a board member of ITCA.
Education: 1994 bachelor’s degree in business administration from National American University; 1996 master’s degree in counseling and criminal justice from Colorado Technical Institute; currently working on a Ph.D. in counseling from Capella University.
Employment: Chemical dependency counselor at Keystone Treatment Center in Canton, 19 years. Teaches American Indian studies at Kilian Community College in Sioux Falls, nine years.
Volunteerism: Inipi (sweat lodge) facilitator since 2000; president of the Inter-Tribal Cultural Alliance Inc.. since 2011; Sioux Falls Diversity Council board member since 2012.
Immediate goal: Open a culturally relevant halfway house in Lennox by early summer.


Address: 2001 S. Minnesota Ave., in the former Payday Loans building.
Contact: 987-4473
Board meetings: First Saturday of the month at the Main Branch of Siouxland Libraries
Weekly/daily programming: Wellbriety meetings, a winyan (or women’s) group, an arts and crafts store and a 16-week cultural curriculum. Child-care options are available for people wanting to attend these programs.
Needs: Volunteers, donors and everyday items in preparation for the halfway house, including bedroom, kitchen and living room items.
Mission: While the original mission consists of 165 words, Eagleman summarized it to read, “To strengthen relationships between all peoples beginning with our children.”
Vision for halfway house: By May, ITCA plans to open the first culturally specific, residential halfway house in Lennox that will cater to Native Americans and others interested in traditional treatment therapies.

The manicured property features 11,000 square feet of building space complete with an indoor pool and other unique amenities. It is worth more than $900,000, according to owner Joe Fink, who will donate the property to ITCA for one year. ITCA will be responsible for paying the some-$5,000 in rental costs, including utilities, each month. Once the halfway house builds enough capital, ITCA will pay Fink for the property to keep the program operational.

The Lincoln County Planning and Zoning Department will hear ITCA’s petition to rezone the property for a halfway house at an upcoming April meeting. Already, Eagleman says ITCA has the financial support from the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate tribe, as well as other area tribes to fund the project if it is approved by Lincoln County.