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A little girl dances at last weekend's Sobriety Powwow in Sawyer. Jamie Lund/Pine Journal

Celebrating sobriety

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Last weekend, the Mash-ka-wisen Sobriety Powwow celebrated its 34th year the way participants have always celebrated: with dancing, drumming, sharing stories and support and honoring those who are sober, no matter how long.

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One day at a time, the days add up.

"This year we had over 2,000 years of sobriety on our 'sobriety roll call' Sunday," said Jim Mallery, administrator of MIPRTC (Minnesota Indian Primary Residential Treatment Center, Inc.), aka Mash-ka-wisen. "We honor everyone who wants to put his or her name on the list. It doesn't matter if it's six days or six years, we're proud to have you."

The powwow is a perfect venue for Mash-ka-wisen - which Mallery said translates to "Be Strong, Accept Help" - a culturally specific treatment facility for people of Native American ethnicity. Since 1978, Mash-ka-wisen has been helping clients understand and incorporate the 12-step program created by Alcoholics Anonymous and adapted by others, learn life and coping skills and, at the same time, introduce or "reintroduce" them to Native American culture and spirituality.

The Sobriety Powwow embodies both sides of the Mash-ka-wisen treatment program.

"A respected elder from Minneapolis told me the first time he came up here, he walked past a group of men who called him over," Mallery said. "He didn't go at first, being a 'city Indian,' he said he was worried about what would happen. But he went back and they invited him to an impromptu AA meeting, to talk about recovery. We have three set AA meetings during the powwow, but so many others just happen."

While some come to celebrate their own sobriety, others come to show support for friends and family members who have struggled or are struggling with addiction to drugs or alcohol.

Leech Lake's Gary Charwood was one of a group of nearly 40 people who ran to the powwow - taking part in the 185-mile Anishinaabe Run for Sobriety and Health - each taking turns carrying a sobriety staff.

The run began at the Red Lake Reservation Wednesday and ended at the powwow grounds a mile and a half from Sawyer, the runners and their supporters arriving in the midst of the Grand Entry.

"It was beautiful, how it came together for us to run in during the powwow," said Charwood, cultural coordinator the Leech Lake Tribal Court's Restorative Justice program. "The dancers, the singers, the spectators .... We couldn't have asked for a better time."

Red Lake Chairman Floyd "Buck" Jourdain also ran. When Jourdain arrived at the powwow, he pointed over to the Mash-ka-wisen building.

"Right over there, that was my room 27 years ago," he said. "This is where my journey started."

Frank Goodwin, Mash-ka-wisen cultural advisor, told the crowd the history of the run from Red Lake to the powwow.

"They wanted to tie-in somehow with the Sobriety Powwow and someone said, 'Let's run to Mash-ka-wisen,'" Charwood related afterward with a chuckle. "They were joking, but someone actually took them seriously."

The annual relay run lasted for many years, he said, but fizzled about 10 years ago. Then, last year, they started it again. Runners don't have to run all 185 miles, he said, they just have to do their part.

"We had runners ages 6 years old all the way to elders," Charwood said, explaining that each person runs and carries the staff for at least three-tenths of a mile along the shoulder of the road before handing off to the next runner.

While he was at the powwow, Charwood visited a number of his own clients who are in the treatment program here.

"I think [taking part in the run] really demonstrates the sincerity, that we do care and we are here to help you make a difference in your life," Charwood said. "We're here to support you in any way we can."

In October, clients from Mash-ka-wisen will each have a chance to carry the sobriety staff during a special Sobriety Walk sponsored by the Fond du Lac Reservation.

"It's an old staff. It offers hope, encouragement, strength. Maybe it will help someone get over the hump," Mallery said.

He explained that clients at the treatment center are immersed in a range of cultural and/or spiritual activities while they're at Mash-ka-wisen, from daily smudging to weekly drum ceremonies to monthly "sweats."

"When we have 'sweats,' we need sage, cedar and sweat-rocks," Mallery said. "One activity might be a trip up the North Shore to gather sweat-rocks, called 'grandfathers.' We want to get them in touch with some of their traditions, their ethnicity. A lot of people have done it before, but maybe not in a long time because they've been using."

On Monday, clients from Mash-ka-wisen spent time cleaning up the powwow grounds.

"I told them, 'I expect to see everyone back here next year as a participant,'" Mallery said.

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