By Regina van de Berg, for the Havre Daily News
ROCKY BOY Community awareness and community action are needed to address drug and alcohol abuse issues. That's the main theme of Native American Week, which will begin Saturday at Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation.
The theme will be presented in a fun and positive way. The week will feature a lot of social events that "cover much of our culture," said Donald Good Voice. Together with Elinor Nault-Wright, he is the leader of the Native American Week planning committee.
The week will be bigger than ever with an average of three events a day, instead of two or three for the week, Nault-Wright said.
Handgame contests, Native American food preparation demonstrations, a rodeo, a parade, horse dances, a ghost dance, a youth powwow and performances by 13-year-old Canadian Terri Ann Strongarm are among the scheduled events. More than 20 people are working together to present an interesting program that gives a lot of insight into Native American culture.
Many events will open to the public. People can learn how to dry meat, get familiar with the art of beading and see for themselves how to tan a hide. They can also participate in many other workshops about Native American activities.
"We personally invite schools in Montana to come over and learn about our Native culture," said Nault-Wright. "We noticed too, that schools take the initiative to ask us to bring in our dancers. We enjoy that, since we would like people to get familiar with our Indian culture."
Raising awareness about the fact that drug and alcohol abuse is destroying the traditional Indian way of life is a key consideration in the events of Native American Week. While many departments of the Chippewa Cree Tribe worked together to put on the events, the Chippewa Cree Coalition had a central role. Its goal is to create a safe community environment as measured by significant decreases in the use of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs.
"We really want to make all our people aware of the importance of fighting drug and alcohol abuse," said Good Voice of the coalition. "Our people need to see how destructive it is to our traditional ways of life. Enough is enough. Now the time has come to grab the bull by the horns and to seriously make a change. Together with the coalition and all the departments that are involved, we hope to do more this year in raising awareness and having the whole community committed to the struggle against drugs and alcohol."
The history of Native American Week goes back to the early 1980s, when the third Friday of September was declared Native American Day nationwide.
"That's a federal recognition for the sacrifices that our people made in the past," said Good Voice, who works for the housing program at Rocky Boy. "We went a step further by organizing a whole week full of events to celebrate our achievements. This year's events cover a great deal of our ways, like the ghost dance and the horse dance, which are important ceremonies to us."
Nault-Wright, a middle school drug prevention and safe-school coordinator, is involved in the organization for the first time.
"Our goal is to raise awareness on certain issues in a fun and positive way," she said. "We want to show our youth and community members that there are many fun, free, positive and inexpensive activities to participate in our community without involving drugs, alcohol or violence."
Nault-Wright gave another example of how Native American Week events can help the Indian youth see a different way of life.
"Terri Ann Strongarm, for instance, is a girl from Starblanket First Nation Indian Reserve in Canada and only 13 years old. However, she is a very good country and western singer and enjoys performing on stage.
"We want to teach our kids, who tend to be somewhat shy in public, that it is OK to show your talents, no matter how young you are. She would make a nice role model for them."
Native American Week kicks off with an honoring ceremony for John "Roddy" Sunchild Sr. on Friday. Sunchild spent many years working to improve the economic conditions and self-sufficiency on reservations.
Web Editor's Note: See schedule of events under 'local headlines'.