Jerald (Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate), Psychology, Sisseton Wahpeton College

Jerald is helping members of his tribe and community heal from generational trauma through mental health and substance abuse counseling. He believes his past struggles will help him offer better care to those in need.

“I want to use my education, both academically and spiritually, to make our people stronger.”

Jerald struggled with substance abuse issues early on in life, having grown up in a household where such behavior was commonplace. But the impact of his addiction on his children — and the realization that he was repeating the same patterns that had disrupted his own life — motivated Jerald to enter treatment. There, he learned the principles of recovery and reconnected with his Native heritage.

As he began to lead a new, sober life, Jerald enrolled at Sisseton Wahpeton College to study psychology, with the goal of helping others break their patterns of addiction. During that time, he and his wife founded Piya Canku (Healing Road), a community outreach program to help those in recovery after treatment. “We wanted to focus on people fresh out of treatment because there is little help for those being discharged,” Jerald says. “There’s not a support system for people that want to continue with their sobriety.”

They applied for a $5,000 grant from the Great Plains Tribal Chairman’s Health Board and Epidemiology Center to identify the leading causes of relapse on the Lake Traverse Reservation. This led to an opportunity with the American Indian Higher Education Consortium’s Aseto’ne Institute research program, a multi-institutional initiative designed to coordinate outreach, education, and mentoring services within the nation’s tribal colleges and universities, wherein Jerald completed 50 hours of research curriculum with prestigious Native doctors and researchers.

Jerald wants to continue to serve his people, conduct additional research, and bring Indigenous methodologies to the next generation of Native mental health professionals. He plans to enroll in a master’s degree program in clinical psychology and eventually a doctoral program focusing on trauma psychology. “After changing my life and regaining my confidence, I feel I am ready to apply my knowledge of our traditional spirituality along with this education to help others overcome what has been plaguing our people for decades,” he says.