Cultural activities help Re-Entry participants rebound from addiction

By Ernest A. Jasmin, Puyallup Tribal News Editor

Edie Holland fondly recalls making her first drum in third grade. “I think it’s cool that, in our culture, the first thing you make you’re supposed to give to somebody that you love,” says Holland, an enrolled Puyallup Tribal member. “So, I gifted my first drum to my sister. She gifted her first drum to me.”

“So it was a win-win situation,” she adds, grinning broadly. “I still got a drum.”

Tapping back into that childhood joy has helped her rebound from troubled times lately. Holland and some of her newest friends gather around a long table in the basement of the Puyallup Tribe’s Re-Entry house in Fife. They stretch wet deer hide, attach it to wooden frames and stack dozens of freshly made drums on a shelf nearby.

The Re-Entry program helps Tribal members whose lives have been derailed by addiction get back on track. On a recent afternoon, participants are rushing to meet the deadline for 150 drums they plan to give to children who will attend the Gathering of Native Americans spring break camp at Chief Leschi Schools. Holland is newly sober and credits this type of cultural crafting activity with helping her feel centered as she puts her life back together.

“I don’t know if it’s important to everybody else,” Holland says, “but it’s definitely important for me to be able to reconnect with my culture at the same time I’m in recovery.”

Carlos West echoes that sentiment. He wrestled with drugs and alcohol before getting sober in 2009. These days, he works with Re-Entry as a navigator, steering clients toward resources they need to return to normal. Through the program, he has learned to make smudge kits, which he says make him feel more in touch with his heritage.

“It’s connected me to my spirituality on a deeper level,” West says. “In contrast, when we’re out there drinking, using drugs and living that life, we’re completely disconnected from everybody. So, that’s what we offer. We offer connection.”

“What I feel is truly unique about the Tribal Re-Entry program is the cultural piece,” Director Mona Miller says. “Besides the Native American recovery groups, we also involve all of our participants in community events that are going on. Last year, we participated in Canoe Journey. We had participants in the Native American Heritage Day who performed at Mariners games. We do this with the Culture Department. We couldn’t do any of this without them.”

Miller launched the program in March 2020, inspired by author Don Coyhis’ Wellbriety Movement — a recovery program tailored toward Native Americans — and her own past struggles with substance abuse. She got started just in time for most business to grind to a halt due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Services still needed to be provided,” she recalls. “So, I worked out of the back of my car. I went to their (clients’) homes to work. I was on the phone a lot. I just kept providing services the best that I could.”

West was Miller’s first hire in December 2021, and her team has since grown to five. She makes a point of hiring people who have been successful in overcoming their own struggles. “I want to have a team that’s built on personal experience and empower them — give them opportunities that they normally wouldn’t get anywhere else,” she says.

Danny Leonard, for example, went from being a client to working for Re-Entry as a peer specialist. “I’ve been sober for just under two years,” he says. “This was part of my transition. I’m just here to try to give back to my people. That’s pretty much my reward, seeing people reach their goals and get some sanity back in their life.”

Navigators and peer counselors help beneficiaries obtain resources that are necessary to stabilize program participants’ lives — everything from job leads to help getting a driver’s license reinstated.

“The first couple of barriers they usually have is they don’t have housing. So we’re able to help with that,” Re-Entry Navigator Samantha “Jo Jo” Pettibon says. “This program is something I wish I had when I first got sober, because we really help people so they can focus on their recovery.”

Re-Entry is also a place where people recovering from addiction can go for other types of support. Meetings take place at the group’s headquarters on Mondays and Thursdays with meals served beforehand. The participants end with singing and drumming. Holland says ths support and camaraderie have become central to her social life.

“I’m a lot more positive now. I’m a lot more open,” Holland says. “It just warms my heart … to see the newcomers that are coming from the treatment center. Every time I come, I always see people that I know, and it’s just great. It’s a great program.”

The Puyallup Tribe’s Re-Entry program holds addiction recovery support meetings at 5:15 p.m. on Mondays and Thursdays at 1501 Alexander Ave. E., in Fife. Contact Mona Miller at (253) 355-8927 or email mona.m[email protected] to learn more about the program.