WAGNER – During the 2018 Meth Awareness Initiative in Wagner last week, a panel of four former meth addicts and dealers talked about the struggles of their addiction, incarceration, loss and recovery. One of the panelists was an Isanti Dakota woman who has been helped in her recovery by the horse she was gifted by a man who has helped bring her to the horse nation.
LeeAnne Red Owl, 37, has been an addict for most of her teen and adult life. Having grown up in the foster care system, Red Owl has struggled with identity and a culture to call home. As a self-described former “thug”, she was once captured by the culture of drugs and incarceration.
As Red Owl stood at the podium at the meth conference, audience members were drawn to the rawness of her story; a story that is becoming more and more common throughout Indian Country. She grew up in the foster care system along with her other two siblings. She said she was constantly bullied by other students and had to physically fight her way into new schools and new social circles. Along the way, she developed no healthy relationships; that was until years later when she met her first horse – Crazy Boy (Witko Hoksida).
Growing up, the young Isanti Dakota girl claims to have experienced all forms of abuse, including physical, emotional, sexual and spiritual. In coping with the trauma of these abuses, Red Owl turned to a partying lifestyle which began at the age of 14. It was on her 14th birthday in which her best friend’s brother raped her. This sent her teen years into a spiral.
LeeAnne Red Owl has been sober for six years now.
During her active use period, her drug of choice was meth, but concedes that she has tried “just about every drug out there.” Often times, when the user’s drug of choice is not available, they will substitute with other drugs. “The alcohol, cocaine and the weed were just substitutes for when I couldn’t get meth.”
The stories Red Owl shared for this article are personal, but she feels her story might be able to help others. “There’s a lot of women out here who have been through the things that I went through. The things that I tell people is that ‘Yeah these bad things can happen to you but it doesn’t mean that it has to weigh you down and keep controlling your life,” she said.
She claims to have been abused, neglected and abandoned. Developing relationships with others was hard to do and the drugs were a social mechanism which seemed to make others tolerable. “The thing that pushed me over is when I got raped,” said Red Owl. “I stayed the night at her house and her parents weren’t home. They had a big party and it was the first time I ever drank – Vodka. That pushed me over the edge.”
Red Owl said when the rape occurred she stopped caring about herself. She used drugs and her addiction to numb the pain of her childhood and the memories of trauma. “I didn’t care what happened to me. I would put myself in high-risk situations. I started drinking every night when I was 14, 15 years old,” she said. Over time, she no longer let anyone know where she was going and would just leave for the night each evening.
“I got pregnant was I was 16 with my first son. I was really lonely. I didn’t have anybody to tell me not to do the things I was doing,” she said. “Why didn’t someone tell me not to do these things?”
She first got introduced to meth at the age of 15, but her meth addiction didn’t really get bad until she was 17. This was after she had her first son. “By the time I was 18, I was a serious IV user,” Red Owl. “The first time I went to prison, I was 24. I been in and out of prison five times.”
It was during a stint in a Nebraska prison that she had her daughter. After being extradited to South Dakota, she was able to spend four months with her daughter. She was sentenced to a year when her daughter was four-months old. This began a series of prison stays as she struggled with her addiction and trauma of her past. She was also convicted of assault during this period.
In explaining her darkest period during her active use meth addiction, Red Owl told the story of the loss of her oldest son eight years ago. “The thing that I always go back to is my son, my oldest son. When I tell my story, I want people to know what meth does to a woman. It takes away everything, every instinct you have as being a mother. You no longer have that. And it’s sad to think that there is so many kids out there that are still going through this,” she said regretfully.
“My son went through everything with me. He seen me at my worst. He seen blood coming out of my arm and he was screaming his head off. ‘Mommy what are you doing hurting yourself!?’ Those are hard things to talk about but those are things we need to be talking about,” said Red Owl. “It’s real. My son died in 2008 and I always think about my life then. If I would’ve known I had that little bit of time with my son, I wouldn’t have been chasing that high, that meth.”
The mother never had a chance to make it up to her son for her mistakes in parenting him. This is her biggest regret during her addiction. It was during a prison stay that Red Owl began to want to change her life. “One of the times I got paroled, I went to Mitchell, SD and that’s when I met Jeff Curry. We started a relationship and we had a son,” she said. She claims that it was when her second son was coming into the world, that this was her creator’s way of giving her a second chance to raise a boy. This was in 2011.
She soon returned to prison and during that time when she was separated from her new son that she began to question her addiction problems. “That whole time I was in there (prison), I was fixing myself. There’s ways that you can get drugs in there. I didn’t do any of it. I just kept my mind focused on not getting in trouble and getting out and being with my kids,” she said.
Red Owl was last released from prison in 2012. She says she has been to treatment “countless times”, but that it was strictly for personal gain and court requirements. “It doesn’t matter if you go to treatment or not, it only matters if that person is ready to stop.”
It was not until Red Owl claims that she wanted to deal the reality of her life and upbringing that she was able to make the commitment to bettering her life for her and her children. She finally had to feel the emotions of those experiences and this helped.
“The year that I got out, I was working in Santee, Neb. I started working for the AmeriCorps program,” she said. The program was initially trying to send her to a domestic violence shelter to do her volunteer work, but they placed her with a horse program due to places available. “I’m a city girl. I don’t know nothing about horses. I met this guy, Doug Widow. He was running the horse program in Santee.”
This introduction to the horse nation is what changed her life forever. They paired Red Owl up with a horse who was “green” and had only been rode twice. Both riders were bucked off, according to the Isanti mother. The mentor in the program began to teach about the medicine wheel model of therapy including the functions of the left and right brain. Red Owl benefitted greatly from these teachings, including those of the “Sunka Wakan Oyate.”
Red Owl developed a close bond with the horse that she helped to make ridable. “He didn’t even buck. He walked. He was so patient. He walked around with me. That excitement and feeling when I was riding him, there was something I never felt before,” she said of her first experience in riding the horse that would eventually become her own. She worked that summer with the horses and that helped keep her sober.
“That horse saved my life,” said Red Owl. This was the first healthy relationship that she had with another being. She feels this relationship was a sacred relationship. Red Owl now helps youth and teaches them how to respect the horse nation and uses those teaching to encourage them in their own lives.
Red Owl currently works for the Santee Domestic Violence Shelter as a victim’s advocate.
Today, Red Owl is a balanced woman continuing to work on her sobriety and raising her daughter, Phalynn Red Owl, 13, and her son Wakiyan Curry, 7. Eight years ago, she lost a son whose Dakota name is Tate Topa Waste Hoksida, but continues to keep his memory alive by holding a memorial ride in his honor.
The Isanti mother is now a part of the Dakota 38+2 Memorial Ride which takes place in December each year. When Red Owl stood up in front of those in attendance at the 2018 Meth Awareness Initiative in Wagner, she used the teachings of her horse relatives and the strength of her children to tell her story.
(Contact Native Sun News Today Correspondent Richie Richards at firstname.lastname@example.org)