Updated: Mar 1, 2020
By Joe Morey
A special event called Pathways to Healing was held Wednesday, Feb. 26, at the Sevenwinds Conference Center which centered on education, information and awareness of addiction, programs and stories of recovery. The event was organized in response to recent drug overdoses in the community and had speakers and presenters all day.
Hundreds of community members attended the event to hear stories of recovery and professionals share their knowledge of addiction, as well as gather information from a dozen vendors from community organizations, such as the Wellness Court, the Health Center and Behavioral Health.
The first speaker was Sawyer County Judge John Yackel who said over the past five years as the judge, he has seen a drastic increase in the drug epidemic involving court and crime in the community.
“I have tremendous hurt when I get a call in the middle of the night for a search warrant where we’ve lost someone who I happen to know, or a person who was in my court and I see them downtown and we high five each other because they are doing better,” Yackel stated. “We are losing so much.”
Yackel has been a strong advocate for a second judge in the county. “It will give us more opportunities from the justice system side of things. We can’t just send people away because they are addicts. We need to help them.”
Yackel went on to say, “The work goes on to try to stop these drugs and any future deaths.”
Mary Ellen Baker, an LCO elder who runs a cultural healing center on the Lac Courte Oreilles Reservation, said she doesn’t believe all Natives are alcoholics and drug addicts.
“I believe we have a loss of identity, traditions and a way of life. The alcohol and drugs are a symptom of that,” Baker said. “We have to believe that these recent deaths, they haven’t died in vain. This gathering is proof of that.”
Angie Merrill, a St. Croix tribal elder, also spoke and shared her story. She is a mentor and coach for people in recovery to get spiritual guidance and ceremonies.
Tony Manila, a Bad River tribal member and Family Nurse Practitioner at the LCO Health Center shared his story of growing up on the reservation and turned his life around. He said he has been at the LCO clinic for the past 3.5 years.
“I try to encourage everyone to find your own path in life but do it positively and through healthy lifestyles, eating and exercising,” Manila said.
The Community Health Nurse for the LCO Health Center, Katie Sears, also shared her story of living that lifestyle but changed for the good. “My children were my motivating factor to change and live a better life.”
Sears presented a slideshow of how much the increasing drug epidemic has given rise to hepatitis C. She said the disease has risen 1,300% in the last 10 years, but it is treatable. She encouraged anyone who is newly sober to get tested.
Mark Stoner, one of the organizers of the Pathways event, also shared a story of his own recovery after living for decades in a life of crime. He had been in and out of prison. He now spends his life helping others walk away from the criminal and drug addicted life.
“I take them guys from the streets and the jail and hold their hand and walk them through the process. It’s not easy, but I take myself back to that level,” Stoner said. “Having lived it, I know how to engage them.”
An LCO tribal member that Stoner spends a lot of time helping maintain a sober life and succeed in his own recovery is Trent Trepania. Stoner helps Trepania in finding work, getting his driver license back and finding a place to live.
“Trent learns from me and I learn from him every day about healing,” Stoner said. He explained how recovering addicts need a support system. People who have been there can engage with people who are just beginning their recovery, Stoner said.
Stoner said no matter how long a person is in prison they are thinking of when they get out finding more drugs, that’s why he works to be there for them when they come out and help them find a sober path right from their first day out.
Another speaker included Tomas Walek, an outreach minister from East Gate Ministries in St. Paul. Walek was in and out of prison for many years until one day he was looking at his daughter as a baby lying on her blanket, he said, “I would not live like this. I will be the father I was created to be.”
Walek stated when the family is broken, the next family is broken and before you know it, the whole community is broken.
Regarding the drug epidemic and its destruction of the family, Walek said, “The father and mother are calling their children home. The children are calling their parents home and the Elders are calling everyone home.”
Walek said because of his past life he couldn’t find a job and then God gave him a new job, “Bringing mothers and fathers back home. And we need our mothers too. All you children running away, your mothers need you back home.”
Walek told everyone in the Conference Center, you have the authority to shut it down. “No more drug dealers here, we’re not going to allow it here anymore.”
Raven Miller, LCO member, and Jennifer Smith, St. Croix member, both shared their stories of recovery after many years of alcohol and drug abuse. Both explained it was their children who gave them a reason to change and purpose in life.
Miller said her message to everyone is to be there for your family member or your friends. “It’s hard if you turn your back on them. They will use more. Reach out, support each other. This community is hurting."
LCO Secretary-Treasurer Michelle Beaudin addressed the gathering, “I want to thank you all for sharing your stories. We are all learning. As leaders we need to hear your story so we know how to help people. We have to bring back culture and spirituality and we have to use the wisdom of our elders. We need pre-care, after care, and family counseling to help families deal with their loved ones who are in recovery.”
LCO Vice Chairwoman Lorraine Gouge also stated, “As leaders of the Tribe, we take this very seriously. This is about saving lives. We have Traditionals, Catholics, Christians and I encourage you all to pray the way you have been taught to pray. We care about you. We love you. We don’t want to lose any more of you. Some may think we don’t care, but they are badly mistaken. We do care but it falls on more than just the leaders, it falls on all of us as a community. Good will defeat evil. We need to stay strong and we need to help those who are struggling find that good path. We can’t take that addiction away from them, only they can do that, but we can help them, support them, guide them and show them the way.”
TGB member Gary “Little Guy” Clause said, “This is just the beginning. We need to pull everyone together from all parts, the schools, the Boys and Girls Club, family services.”
Little Guy told of how when he was on the Tribal Council up to 2015, he was addicted to opiates and that his addiction was so bad, he didn’t care what happened. He lost everything he stated, kids, home, job on the council, lost weight and got too skinny.
“I have to beat this addiction or I’m going to die,” He said to himself. “So I quit. I got clean and I grinded back. I’m gonna get my shit back and worked hard every day to get it back. And I got it back. So I know the struggle. It’s teamwork. We all have to stick together. I got people who have come to me now while they are struggling, but I didn’t turn my back on them. One thing I tell them is you can’t keep doing this, you are one of our future leaders.”
Little Guy said this is his new energy. “I am here to do the best I can for my people.”
Jingle Dress Dancers from L-R) Michelle Beaudin, Lori Taguma, Charity Sun Rhodes and not pictured Adel Morrow.
Hand Drum Singers from St. Croix
Top left clockwise TGB members Little Guy Clause, Lorraine Gouge and Michelle Beaudin; Katie Sears and Tony Manila; Little Guy Clause, Tomas Walek and his daughter Bella; Mark Stoner and his daughter Rayna.