I met Jerrod and his daughter Lela somewhere in Montana. He is part Chippewa, part Cree Indian who grew up on a Montana reservation. The markings on his face are symbolic of both the suffering and hope of his people.
He was drinking and using drugs by the age of 12. In his teens, his mother left the reservation and moved to Portland. She was struggling with heroin addiction and thought she could start a new life away from the poverty and desolation of the reservation life. After several years, Jerrod went in search of his mother. Her addiction worsened and eventually she threw her son to the street. It would not be long before Jerrod found the needle. He remained a junkie for nearly 20 years, much of that time living on the streets of Portland.
He has been in and out of rehab. He was kicked out of the Marines. He met and fell in love with the mother of his three daughters. But he could not loose himself from the heroin. Until several years ago, when, during a six-month stint in rehab, a medicine man, sent from Arizona by his family, arrived at the treatment facility. Most of their work together was on forgiveness, during which time Jerrod was taught how to use visioning exercises to work through the anger and resentment he had towards his mother. He left rehab, for the first time, with a renewed sense of purpose and a calm he had never known before.
Then Jerrod told me about the Sun Dance Ceremony. Very little is known or has been written about this most sacred of rituals among the indigenous people of North America. He was very careful about what he told me. The ceremony takes months of preparation by tribal elders. It is attened by members from around the country. It is both an initiation rite for young members of the tribe and a healing ceremony for those, like Jerrod, who struggle with demons, physical, emotional and spiritual. Those who attend participate in fasting rituals, are given herbal potions and spend hours immersed in the cleansing heat of the sweat lodge.
The focal point of the four-day ceremony is the Sun Dane itself. The young men who are invited to participate dance around a pole to which they are fastened by rawhid thongs pegged through the skin of their chests. Jerrod pulled up his shirt to proudly reveal the extensive scarring from where the thongs were attached to his chest. "These scars remind me that the Sun Dance brought me closer to my creator," he said. "To know the creator is to begin the process of healing."
Jerrod, now three years clean and sober, has come to terms with his mother, who still battles her heroin addiction. He is actively involved in raising his three daughters. And in nine months, he will become certified as a drug and alcohol counselor. "I want to give back," he said. "Especially to Native Americans who are being ravaged by drug and alcohol abuse."
He then added: "I understand how our (Native American) culture fuels addictions. But since my experience with the medicine man and the Sun Dance Ceremony, I also know that the solution to addiction lies with that same culture.By knowing and sharing this, I can help our brothers and sisters before all hope is lost."