Posted: Jun 23, 2013 8:41 PM by Tara Grimes - MTN News
Updated: Jun 23, 2013 8:41 PM
From accusations of state lawmaker Shannon Augare driving under the influence to several recent alcohol-related highway deaths, the topic of drinking and driving is making headlines in the Blackfeet Nation and across Montana.
Blackfeet Tribal member Cheryl Little Dog is drawing on personal experience to battle the problem.
Her ordeal began the week of May 18, 1991, when she said she witnessed what her Native American culture considers a sign of death.
"My niece was here and she came running in and said 'grandma grandma there's an owl sitting on the fence over there,'" Little Dog said. "It looked like it was going to fly toward the window, but it went over the house."
Going about her normal routine however, she headed into town to drink with friends. But just hours later, while they drove around under the influence, her life changed forever.
"I don't remember anything at all," Little Dog said.
She said while they were on Starr School Road, the vehicle hit a bump, flipped several times, and threw her 150 feet down the embankment where she landed next to the river.
"I broke my neck in five places, I broke my back in two, I had a ruptured spleen and a ruptured liver," Little Dog said.
Along with other complications, Little Dog was paralyzed. Sadly, she said, the problem of drinking and driving is almost a 'norm' on the reservation and several others.
"The culture with the alcohol is high, just like the pills, the meth, the drugs," she said.
So for the past nineteen years Little Dog has traveled around to schools on and off the reservations, speaking to kids about the importance of staying "Sober Behind The Wheel." In 2007, she teamed up with the Montana Department of Transportation for the Safe Nn All Roads Program.
"I think that's the greatest impact is me being in a wheelchair and saying 'hey you know what? This can easily happen to you. You think you're made of steel or you can't hit that wall and be broken up? You can be, it happened to me, it can happen to any of you,'" Little Dog said.
She's also led an annual walk to the Blackfeet Medicine Wheel, remembering the lives of those they've lost to many things including drinking and driving. She created the wheel in 2007.
But she says prevention goes far beyond just speaking to the kids. Last year she was elected into the Blackfeet Tribal Business Council in hopes of bringing the youth activities such as roller skating, a movie theater or a multi-sports complex.
"We get millions of dollars put in to our tribe and what do we get our youth? Nothing," she said.
Even with her ambitions laid out in front of her, Little Dog said she still goes back in time, remembering the moments after the accident.
One of those is a vivid dream she experienced, where she was standing on a mountain, surrounded by fluffy clouds, an eagle and her sister.
"I don't know if I dreamt it, or if it was just my body, my spirit, where it was deciding to leave or stay," Little Dog said.
In that dream she said she knew she had a choice to make and that choice was to stay on this earth.
"I go back to that all the time, even when I tell my stories," Little Dog said. "I tell them we do have choices in life to make and the wise choices we make will prosper."
Little Dog said she also speaks about the importance of wearing a seatbelt. She was not wearing one at the time of her crash.