Carrying the eagle staff in this year’s Denver March Powwow was an honor for Doug Good Feather, because the eagle feathers represent “the warriors of our people, the accomplishments of our people, honor, respect, generosity, compassion, fortitude—virtues of life that our people always carried.”
Hunkpapa Lakota, Good Feather serves as the executive director of the Standing Rock, South Dakota–based Lakota Way Healing Center, which educates American Indian youth and nurtures their recovery from drugs and alcohol addiction by reconnecting them to their rich cultural heritages and spirituality.
While he remains active in the Lakota Way program, he now resides in Lakewood, Colorado with his three children, and has created another healing program with a friend. The Healing Hoop is a 12-step program that incorporates “Indian ways,” offered at the Denver Indian Center.
Good Feather credits sobriety with opening the doors to his success. While raised in a nurturing home on the Standing Rock Sioux Indian Reservation in South Dakota, he moved to Minneapolis at age 18 and began drinking. “I became a very dysfunctional person, in and out of unhealthy relationships,” he said. “I ended up being homeless.”
Then Good Feather hit rock bottom. “I decided that night my life wasn’t worth living, I was going to commit suicide on this bridge,” he said. “I stood in front of this car. I closed my eyes waiting for it to hit me.” Good Feather explains that he felt someone push him from behind, and he landed on the sidewalk. When he turned around, no one was there. “I instantly sobered up. I came out of it then and there.”
Wandering Minneapolis that night, he stumbled upon a building and noticed “a bunch of Indian people coming in and out of there.” It was American Indian Services, which Good Feather describes as a halfway house for recovering alcoholics. He received a bed and treatment based on traditional Indian healing and a 12-step program. After six months, he left and began work as a carpenter, followed by working for a chemical dependency program. He also returned to pow wow dancing and toured the states. A particular experience resonated with Good Feather. At a pow wow ceremony, he noticed a young man in a wheelchair whom he described as paraplegic. “As I came back around, I’d stop and I’d dance in front of him,” Good Feather said. “All of sudden his eyes fixed on me. He moving and his arms were tapping. His mom started crying.”
The mother approached Good Feather after the song. He said, “She came to me and held my hand, and said, ‘Since the accident happened, I’ve never seen him move the way he did. Thank you.’?”
Good Feather calls the bond created through pow wow dancing “good medicine,” something he learned from his grandmother, who told him: “You dance for the people, you help them heal.”
While his journey on the “Red Road” of sobriety kept Good Feather content, his life’s calling presented itself through a “spirit dream,” he explained. It told him to “prepare for a year” and go on a vision quest to Bear Butte in the Black Hills of South Dakota to pray for four days and four nights. After fulfilling the request, he returned to his reservation and began talking to his fellow tribal members. “Everybody I talked to on my reservation, they started crying because there was nothing but suicides, drugs, alcohol and gangs,” Good Feather said. “Traditions were being absorbed, consumed and disintegrated by alcoholism and drugs.”
That’s when Good Feather found his mission to create the Lakota Way Healing Center. “It was a healing center for people to come to restore their faith, rejuvenate their souls,” he said. “The foundation of this organization is spirituality. Without it, there’s no backbone.”
To Good Feather, wellbriety and pow wow dancing go hand in hand, and the positive energy created by both is one and the same. “You have to be in order to send out good energy to people,” Good Feather said. “You have to have a clean heart and a clean mind, to send out good energy like that—good medicine.”