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17th Sober Squad Chapter Organized at LCO

By Joe Morey

News Editor

Charles Jared Kagigebi and Spring LaSieur

With a motto, “to empower and support individuals in recovery to build healthier communities,” Sober Squad continues to spread throughout Midwest tribes sending a message there is hope for those in recovery. The newest chapter is the 17th started here at LCO with weekly wellbriety meetings Wednesday from 6 to 7 pm held at the Bizhiki Wellness Center on Hwy B.

An organizer of the local chapter, Spring LaSieur, said the word is starting to spread around LCO entities of what they are attempting. She said everyone on the tribal council seems to be on board and backs up their efforts.

“We’re not a popularity thing, we want to be a voice in the community,” LaSieur said. “We’re about recovery and we’re here for people in their recovery. We’re here to help.”

LaSieur speaks from the heart when she says they want to let the community know they are taking it back. “I’ve been in the meth houses and I’ve spoken to people. I know many of the people and I have many friends with addiction. I tell them ‘when you’re ready for recovery, we’re here.’”

LaSieur said they are planning meetings and events. She added it’s been difficult to get it started, but when she met Deb Baker who has been strongly promoting the formation of a Sober Squad at LCO, and Charles Jared Kagigebi, it’s helped give her some direction.

Kagigebi, who has been in recovery for 13 years from drugs, says he has a goal to become an AODA counselor and help others. He explained that he set up the meeting on Wednesdays as an AODA meeting and for months it was just himself and one other person until just recently with the help of Deb Baker and Spring. Last week, he noted 12 people showed up to the meeting. He hopes the word will continue to spread.

“I’m not here because of probation. I’m here because I want to be here for my community,” Kagigebi said. “I always knew I wanted to this and not to do drugs.”

Kagigebi lost his girlfriend and best friend in a car accident he was involved in on his 18th birthday. He said he struggles with it and thinks about it every day.

LaSieur added she thinks Sober Squad will bring hope back to many people.

“We have a problem in our community where people won’t go into the meth houses because they are afraid of it being in the air, the walls, but Sober Squad isn’t afraid,” LaSieur said. “We come from a background that everyone knows about. That’s why our voices will be louder than they ever were.”

On Oct. 7, LaSieur met with the LCO Tribal Governing Board (TGB) in their weekly meeting asking for their support in upcoming events. She told the TGB, “When I was growing up it was the gangs that had influence but with this we want Sober Squad to be the influence.”

LaSieur explained to them that as part of her recovery she wants to help others with their recovery. “If I’m volunteering and helping Sober Squad, it helps me in my own recovery.”

At that meeting, Wellness Court Coordinator Sue Aasen said Sober Squad has a lot of credibility in the Midwest.

Some of the things LaSieur thinks Sober Squad can do in the local community include getting needle dispensers placed around the reservation with locks on them so that once they are placed in the dispenser, they can’t get to them. She believes this will help eliminate the current problem of finding needles in yards, driveways and ditches all over the reservation. She also stated Sober Squad wants to help with Elder services and community clean-up projects.

LaSieur and Kagigebi explained the Wellbriety Meetings on Wednesday nights from 6 to 7 pm at the Bizhiki Wellness Center on Hwy B are meant to be recovery meetings and Sober Squad meetings.

“If you have any alcohol or drug related problem, let’s talk about it,” LaSieur said. “Let’s support each other.”

LaSieur talked about how a major concern many people bring up is when they are released from jail or prison there is no one to hang out with who isn’t doing drugs or alcohol.

“You can hang out here with Sober Squad. We are a support team,” LaSieur said.

Spring said anyone can call her when they need to talk or for more information about Sober Squad, and they are welcome to call her anytime of the day. Her number is 715-558-0285.

The following article appeared in the Mille Lacs Messenger April 19, 2019, about Colin Cash who founded Sober Squad at the Mille Lacs reservation.

Defying the statistics and odds with Sober Squad

Mille Lacs local spearheads statewide recovery initiative

When it comes to facing the opioid epidemic, community action goes hand-in-hand in the work for recovery. That’s the perspective Mille Lacs local Colin Cash brings to his initiative.

Since 2016, Cash has stepped into a role of community leadership. His efforts have grown into the statewide advocacy and support group, Sober Squad. Despite the hostile environment his work began in, as Cash put it, he and the people he helps are defying the odds.

Rock bottom

“In recovery, they usually say you gotta hit rock bottom before you do something about it,” Cash said. For Cash, rock bottom had been the revocation of the joint powers agreement between the band and the county in 2016. This exacerbated already existing struggles in the Mille Lacs reservation community. “There was no recovery community to speak of,” Cash said, “... and people were dying left and right at an ugly pace.”

And it was in this environment that Cash decided he was going to begin advocating for change. For the year prior to the conception of Sober Squad, Cash made numerous attempts to get groups for community advocacy and support off the ground. Though there were a number of failures, things began to change when Gary Branchaud, his partner in founding Sober Squad, showed up. Branchaud began attending meetings consistently, and then others did as well. “Every single day for a year and a half, I prayed for my community,” Cash said. “And the strange thing I noticed was other people int the community started answering that prayer.”

Community work

Elaborating on the set of tools he has developed to help the Mille Lacs community, Cash said that from initial contact, a Sober Squad advocate will help an individual get into a detox program, staying with them at the ER until they are given a bed. They will help transport the individual from detox to treatment. And from treatment, the person will be brought back into the community, where Sober Squad runs a support group or event every night of the week. Cash emphasized that Sober Squad sticks with the individual through their full journey of recovery and beyond, providing encouragement and support.

As Sober Squad has grown, it’s incorporated more advocacy work. One example Cash cited was setting up a tent the first Thursday of every month to distribute resources for support. The program has also partaken in events like the Onamia Days Parade and the Pow Wow Parade, as well as smudge walks on the reservation and walks through Brainerd. An important aspect of the program for Cash is being out in the community to show what recovery could look like.

Elaborating on the resources Sober Squad provides, Cash stated that it hosts a support group almost every night of the week. The group also meets at Pizza Hut every Friday night and goes bowling every Saturday. There is a “fellowship belt” circulating between the various Sober Squad chapters. Any chapter can challenge another to some competition to claim the belt. Fun events like this are part of Sober Squad’s commitment to building community support.

Sober Squad also aims to help its participants navigate resources for recovery and put them in touch with a community working towards that common goal. Sober Squad has also started hosting leadership training sessions, like Recovery Coach Academy. Many of Sober Squad’s participants are volunteers, and this training helps them in providing professional support.

At the annual Minnesota Walk for Recovery in 2018, hosted by Minnesota Recovery Connection, Sober Squad set records for having the largest team and for gathering the most donations. “And this is a group of mostly Native Americans,” Cash said, “coming from the worst possible environment, showing up in the most numbers and raising the most donations. It’s defying the statistics and the odds.”

Following this Walk for Recovery, Cash, Branchaud and several other Sober Squad members have had a chance to receive training as peer recovery specialists. Minnesota Recovery connection has since asked them to host Recovery Coach Academy events in rural areas and on reservations. “That’s a huge thing,” Branchaud said, “considering a year ago we were just running people to meetings.”

Cash stated there are around 3,800 current Sober Squad members between at least 13 chapters in cities across the state as well as a few groups in Wisconsin. Cash added that it is not an exclusively Native American group. There are chapters in major cities like Brainerd, St. Cloud and the Twin Cities as well as on reservations. “It’s people in recovery coming together,” he said, “and it’s pretty beautiful.”

Plans of attack

The work of Sober Squad continues to grow and develop. When asked what his goals for the future are, Cash said, “If I want to get dreamy eyed, I believe that there’s a potential for Sober Squad to go across every single reservation that’s hit and plagued by this drug epidemic.” Cash said that he has a unique set of plans of attack to use leadership training to help organize communities. Through the help of this leadership, community building events can then be run to steer the community in a new direction.

“What’s unique about Sober Squad,” he emphasized, “was that it was born in this ugly, hostile environment, and yet it’s producing results.”

Community is at the heart of what Colin Cash advocates for. While the circumstances of a community may not always be pleasant, Cash’s work has shown that persistence and unity can overcome adversity. Sober Squad continues to grow, challenging the harm the opioid epidemic has wrought.


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