Levi Rickert, editor-in-chief in Native Condition. Discussion »
Dirk Whitebreast-Sac & Fox
WITTENBERG, WISCONSIN - Dirk Whitebreast, Sac and Fox, delivers a powerful message about loss, yet filled with hope.
True to his Sac and Fox heritage, Whitebreast is a strong messenger. His message is about one of the most horrific social ills that confront the modern American Indian society - suicide.
Eight years ago, Whitebreast lost his 18 year old sister, Darcy Jo Keahna, to suicide and has fought through the heavy grief that confronted him and his family since that dreadful day.
Currently, he is in the midst of running a total of 262 miles in ten marathons within thirty days. He is running to raise awareness about suicides among American Indian youth. He is also raising money to combat suicides among American Indians. Funds raised during the ten marathon challenge will go to the Center for Native American Youth - Aspen Institute, based in Washington DC.
Erica White Eagle
Sunday night he rose to address a near capacity crowd during the Ho-Chunk Nation Wittenberg Youth & Learning Center's Community Action Plan on Suicide Prevention Program in central Wisconsin. Earlier in the day, Whitebreast had finished his second marathon in as many days.
At 6'11" and 197 lbs, Whitebreast is an unassuming man. A soft spoken speaker, with an accent reminiscent of those in the movie "Fargo," he kept the Indian youth captivated with the sad story of losing his sister to suicide eight years ago.
"I was attending school at Haskell at the time. I got a call telling me my sister committed suicide. It was a long drive home to Tama, a five-hour drive. At the time my mother had a very hard time. Drinking was a way to escape what had just happened. I remember chasing my crying mother in the yard and telling her that drinking is not the way to deal with our loss," said Whitebreast.
"Now, when I think of my sister, I think about the future she should have had," he continued and told the youth. "You have the possibility to make a future."
He also told the youth that the day he got the call was the last day he ever drank alcohol.
"It was a summer of a grieving process. Friends could not help me. No one in my community could help me. But, I wanted to be a better man for my family. I still had a younger sister," speaking from his heart, Whitebreast continued. "To me, Darcy was the glue between me and our younger sister; she held our family together. Then she was gone. "
Whitebreast recounted about how he left Haskell to go home to be with his family and eventually became a marathon runner. Once home, he found an old pair of white athletic shoes he had previously used to cut the lawn; the old pair of shoes were mostly green from grass stains. He put them on and began to walk a third-mile to the mailbox. He would look up in the sky and look at the moon. These walks helped him collect his thoughts.
Soon he began running. He taught himself to go farther distances. It was about growing his endurance. Eventually, he decided to run in a half marathon, which is 13 miles. By 2005, he ran in the Des Moines, Iowa marathon.
"I found something in it." stated Whitebreast. "When you get done with a run, there are feelings of accomplishment."
Today, he sees running as gift from the Creator. "We all have gifts from the Creator that were given to us. Yours may be a different gift. Mine is running, " he told the youth.
Traditionally, the Sac and Fox used long distance runners as messengers. He told a traditional story of how metaphorically small hummingbirds would enter into the messengers. The messengers were well respected by the tribal community.
When tribal councils were unable to make decisions, they would go to the runners - messengers - to make the decision. Whitebreast told the youth that showed the respect that was given to the messengers.
Whitebreast, a Sac and Fox modern-day messenger told the youth: "There is still hope. I don't have all the answers, but there is hope. Our culture is breathing inside all of us. It is never easy, especially for young leaders. I am not sure it is supposed to be."
Earlier in the day, the Ho-Chunk Nation supplied two relay teams to run in the Community First Fox Cities Marathon in Menasha, Wisconsin to show their support of Whitebreast's challenge.
Josie Raphaelito, program coordinator
Center for Native American Youth
"I am impressed and inspired by Dirk's story and commitment to raising awareness to the issue of suicide in Indian Country. Through his run and speech," commented Josie Raphaelito, program coordinator of the Center for Native American Youth, who headed one of the relay teams and also spoke at the program.
"Dirk connected with Ho-Chunk Nation youth and reminded them that through culture we can find strength for healing and positive living."
After the program, Whitebreast was presented with an Indian basket to give to this grandmother and was blessed with a ceremonial prayer, as he prepares for this coming week's run in the American Birkbeiner Trail Run in Hayward, Wisconsin.
posted September 20, 2011 4:50 pm edt
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