The drum used in last Friday's Tagwii and Mino Wii Jii Win dedication ceremony on the Fond du Lac Reservation is no ordinary drum. It has a name - In-gaa-wii-to-kaaz, which means "I will help" in Ojibwe - as well as an official drum keeper and a permanent home at the Tagwii Treatment Center.
As such, the role of the drum and its drummers/singers held even greater significance Friday because the dedication ceremony was for two Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa treatment centers - Tag Wii for adults and Mino Wii Jii Win for adolescents - which both incorporate established treatment practices with American Indian customs and spirituality into their unique chemical dependency treatment programs.
"It's a healing drum," explained Keeper of the Drum Mike Munnell after Friday's ceremony. "We believe the drum signifies the heartbeat of the native people. In that sense, when they hear the drum and songs, it promotes spiritual healing.
"In this setting, where people are healing and recovering from alcohol and other drugs, it has a very special meaning."
Close to 50 people attended Friday's event, and speakers included staff, tribal and state officials and two Tagwii graduates.
Chuck Walt, Fond du Lac programming executive director, described how the treatment program began in 2007 inside the Band's Min No Aya Win Human Services Center in response to what tribal health officials called "a new epidemic in Indian Country."
"It had to do with meth and prescription drugs," Walt said, noting that Phil Norrgard, director of human services, and others rose to the occasion and came up with a new treatment program. "This [Tagwii] program is a model, there are people coming from all over the country to see how we do things. ... I know the adolescent program will be just as successful."
For Walt, the struggle with addiction is personal. He talked about how his sister died after 30 years of prescription drug abuse.
"I know what it's like to lose someone," he said. "This program is about lives that are being changed. We know they're being changed every day. We're grateful for that."
While they target different age groups, the Tagwii and the Mino Wii Jii Win treatment programs follow similar paths. They are both outpatient treatment programs: "They learn to live a sober lifestyle within a home environment," said Bunny Jaakola, Fond du Lac behavioral health department coordinator. The programs are tailored to the individual - there is no "one size fits all" mentality, even though all the clients are Native American. Although there are different tracks - or length of treatment time - within the programs depending on the client's level of chemical dependency, the usual length of treatment time is long, relative to other programs in the area.
"There is some flexibility within the plan for individualized service," Jaakola said, noting that one's spirituality is a part of that individualization, though not the focus. "If you're a practicing Christian, we respect that and work around that. Or if you're very culturally specific to the American Indian way of life, they work with that."
Jaakola said during the first part of treatment the person works toward establishing a more stable lifestyle. In the beginning the client has daily contact with Tagwii staff.
The second part of the year-long treatment program emphasizes more independence. Jaakola said this phase of treatment often emphasizes spirituality more than the first phase.
"Many are brought back to their family through genealogy," Jaakola said, noting that doing family research is an optional, though popular, activity. "For the first time in their lives, they look at who their relatives are, what the traditions are. We're finding that, for the Indian client, that is very valuable."
A Tagwii graduate named Brenda spoke about her 30-year struggle with alcohol and drugs during the dedication ceremony, how she managed to be highly successful in her professional life despite the drugs and drinking, until she started taking methamphetamines in 2000. At that point her already messy personal life got worse and she lost her the job that paid her close to $50,000 a year.
"It took almost everything from me except my life and my family," said Brenda, whose last name was withheld. "My mother moved out, I was fired from my job, I lost the home I'd been paying off for 20 years."
She was in and out of jail more than once. As Brenda said, it took six years [of taking meth] for 30 years of her life to go down the drain.
"I needed to find out who I was. Having started drinking and drugs at 12 years old, I didn't really know," Brenda related to the crowd. "For 11 months, my group was my family. We shared, we talked. Without them, my parole officer and others, I wouldn't have made it.
"I didn't know who I was at 40-plus years of age. That's hard to believe, I know. Now I know," she paused while the crowd applauded, "and I like me."
Friends, family and community are an important element of successful recovery from chemical dependency.
"The most successful clients are the ones with a good support system," Jaakola said. "It's not always a biological family, but a family-like support system. ... Sometimes clients have misused relationships within the family, the community and their social life and they have to start back at square one, to repair and build new relationships."
During the ceremony Fond du Lac Chairwoman Karen Diver talked about how important the treatment programs are to the tribal community.
"A number of our community members are coming here," Diver said. "They come here and find themselves again. It's a long and committed process, but when they leave, they leave with strength.
"We're proud of you that have been able to do this and we're ready for the rest of you when you're ready."
The drum is waiting, too.