GREAT FALLS — Working in conjunction with the Alliance For Youth, the Sober Life hosts a weekly gathering in Great Falls featuring Native American values and beliefs called the Red Road To Wellbriety, a universally-based 12-step program for indigenous people.
“What really helped me in my sobriety was getting to know my roots,” said Lea Wetzel, the organizer. “AA was a big part of it, but we didn’t really have a red road to reference to.”
Wetzel, a drug court graduate, says the group which is open to anyone, and focuses on a different theme each week.
”It’s just somewhere I can talk, maybe vent about my day, maybe it was a good day or a bad day but it just helped me out a lot doing these events,” said Jonathan Brady, a member of the group.
So far, they’ve done projects such as vision boards, a talking circle, and book study. They have birthday meetings to celebrate members’ sobriety and watch videos featuring Red Road To Wellbriety founder Don Coyhis.
Their next meeting is focused on the use of tobacco in everyday life and the use of ceremonial and sacred tobacco.
“In our culture, tobacco is a gift,” said Desarae Baker, the chronic disease prevention specialist for the Little Shell Tribe. “It's something that was given to us so that we can pray and honor people with.”
“I was raised if you see an eagle, you pull over and you give tobacco,” said Wetzel. “You do find people that will use smoking cigarettes or whatever as their excuse, saying, 'I’m native.'”
“There were targeting campaigns with commercial tobacco to not only use our likeness as a marketing ploy but also to target us as a minority to buy into the idea that commercial tobacco was like our cultural tobacco,” said Baker.
”When you’re using tobacco in a cultural way, you’re supposed to have good thoughts,” said Baker. “If you think about when people are smoking, generally it’s because they don’t feel that great and they want to get away from everything and they want to have a stress break. That’s not really the intention for us and our people and our culture. We want to make sure that’s a very clear delineation.”
Because commercial tobacco has been culturally accepted, Baker says it leads to greater health concerns.
“It’s evident in heart disease, obviously cancer, and low birth weight,” said Baker. “Lots of different things that are terrible outcomes.”
Baker says teaming up with the Sober Life is just one of the resources available to tribal members. There’s also quit lines designed specifically for Native Americans.