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Levi Rickert, editor-in-chief in Native Currents. Discussion »
MT. PLEASANT, MICHIGAN - August is American Indian sobriety month on the Isabella Indian Reservation, home of the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe of Michigan.
Steve Pego - Saginaw Chippewa
"It's great to be sober!" declared Steve Pego, a traditional elder of the Saginaw Chippewa Tribe, on Saturday during the opening ceremony to kick off the Freedom Walk held to commemorate sobriety.
“You just think better,”
said Pego, who is a recovering alcoholic to a packed crowd in the tribal gymnasium.
“We have now declared war on drugs and alcohol.”
The Freedom Walk has been held each Saturday morning of the annual Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe's powwow since the early 1990s.
Community Member Receiving Eagle Feather
Several tribal community members came forward with personal stories of recovery from alcohol.
One member, announced simply as Sister Wendy, came forward with poignant testimony of her struggles with alcohol. Tearfully, she recounted how her mother was an alcoholic most of her life and she determined that she did not want to be an alcoholic like her mother.
Yet, she did. She told how she passed out from drinking and awoke one time to find her money and cell phone stolen.
Later, she lost her children to foster care because she could not stop drinking. She enrolled in substance abuse programs repeatedly, only to relapse again. While speaking of losing her children by court order was difficult for her.
"I cannot talk about my children without crying," said Sister Wendy, wiping back tears from her eyes.
Sister Wendy reported she has been alcohol-free for the past six months.
"This has not been fun. It has been a lot of work," commented Sister Wendy. "I did what I had to do to get myself better."
She said that in previous attempts to stop drinking, she found it difficult to take a personal inventory of her life and had not been ready to accept her responsibility for her decisions and actions.
This past April, her mother died. "I will admit, I cannot do this by myself," said Sister Wendy. She told the crowd that if you are serious about stop drinking alcohol, you must stop hanging with friends who drink. "I found a new set of friends," she continued.
"God has me on a path," said Sister Wendy, as she concluded her remarks.
Brian Loney, prevention specialist at the Saginaw Chippewa Behavioral Health Prevention Program, encouraged the crowd to stay on the sobriety pathway.
"You may slip and fall, but you have to get back up," Loney said. "I tell people all the time we are human and we don't have to be perfect, but it is important to keep trying."
As the opening ceremony ended, several tribal members were given eagle feathers in honor of work they have done to help to keep the Tribe alcohol-free.
The Freedom Walk drew approximately 250 tribal members and others for a mile and half walk from tribal headquarters to the tribal campground.
Drum Closes Ceremony
"We walked for the babies," said Pego at the closing ceremony around a fire where the Freedom Walkers stood to hear the American Indian Movement song. "Babies are innocent. We have to remain alcohol-free for our babies."
"This walk gets us all together," said Judy Banister, who said she has participated in several Freedom Walks. "I started because of my nephew. Now, I have been free from drinking for years."
posted August 8, 2011 7:30 am edt
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