By Tim Eberly
Theda New Breast's road to recovery began at age 12, when she planned to kill her father.
Then New Breast, who intended to make her alcoholic father's death look accidental, attended an Alateen meeting a recovery program for teenagers affected by alcoholics with a friend. At that meeting, New Breast realized her father had a disease, and abandoned her murder plot.
The middle-aged woman from the Blackfeet Indian Reservation in Glacier County told this tale and much more to 174 people at the Gathering of Native Americans wellness conference Thursday at Rocky Boy High School.
It was the second and most emotional day of the three-day conference, a nationwide tool for Native American reservations dealing with a host of community problems, including alcoholism and domestic abuse.
New Breast and her daughter, 24-year-old Amanda Old Crow, have traveled the United States and Canada for the last decade both work as GONA facilitators. They have worked all four GONA conferences sponsored by Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation, beginning in 1997. New Breast, in fact, helped write the original GONA curriculum 10 years ago.
"Today is the deep healing part," New Breast said Thursday, while the crowd feasted on a Mexican taco lunch. "We're listening to men and women tell their stories."
On Wednesday, the 23 GONA facilitators five of them from GONA national and the rest from Rocky Boy focused on making the participants comfortable by using fun-filled games and a rope-climbing course.
"They wanted to continue doing just that," said Elinor Nault-Wright, a GONA facilitator from Rocky Boy. "But we had to move on."
The following day, during the open-mike session, it appeared the mission of Wednesday had been accomplished, as audience members were more than willing to tell their personal stories.
"People are constantly grabbing the mike," Nault-Wright said. "It's worked. They're feeling comfortable talking in front of the crowd."
One woman discussed her battle with drugs; another spoke of her experience with cancer and chemotherapy treatments. Tears welled in a man's eyes when he told the crowd how much he missed some recently deceased elder relatives.
"They say that men don't cry, but this is part of the healing," he said shortly before passing the mike.
Today, the itinerary is focusing on brainstorming for solutions of the problems discussed earlier.
Benji Takes Horse, 23, drove six hours from Wyola on the Crow Indian Reservation to attend. It was his second GONA; he attended his first in 2001 in Sheridan, Wyo.
The GONA at Rocky Boy is "more active," said Takes Horse, whose brother-in-law, Marcus Red Thunder, was one of the facilitators. "The last one was more on seminars."
Takes Horse was too shy to speak at this conference. "My plan is to become more active, to speak in front of the crowd," he said.
The smell of burning sweetgrass and sage almost always accompanied the speakers and prayer ceremonies.
By Thursday evening, laughter more than likely surpassed the tears. Old Crow, who moonlights as the comedian "Gohmaaz," was the last scheduled speaker of the day.
A decade ago, when she was 14, Old Crow was at a GONA conference that lacked an opening act. When no one stepped forward to fill the void, New Breast made a tattered old woman's costume for Old Crow.
She performed a dance routine, made a few jokes, and Gohmaaz was born. "I stole the show," she said.
"What we're learning is that (some) people aren't ready to cry yet," Old Crow said. "But they're ready to laugh. And that's just as good healing."
Old Crow has performed her Gohmaaz routine, which means "you poor pitiful thing," on Broadway. The polished comedy routine touches on issues like safe sex, drugs and alcohol, as Old Crow refers to Gohmaaz as "a recovering everything."
"My thing is to see native people have a smile on their face," she said. "Rocky Boy is one of my favorite places, because my character is best with young people and elders."