Montevideo Wellbriety group to light public areas in Granite Falls, Montevideo for Overdose Awareness

Jessica Stölen-Jacobson
Montevideo American-News
Members of the Montevideo Wellbriety group at the ceremony in Granite Falls to light the walking bridge orange in order to raise awareness of the recovery of the children buried at boarding schools around the world. The ceremony was just one of the community events the group has hosted.

The Wellbriety movement is a large movement of peer-led support groups around the United States that work along with a combination of AA and NA traditions and principles combined with a Native spirituality and culture emphasis to provide support for persons in recovery from drug and alcohol addictions. Locally, the Montevideo Wellbriety group is just a week away from celebrating its second anniversary. 

One of the group’s co-founders, Morgan IronHeart attended both the Montevideo and Granite Falls City Council meetings this month to propose a project in each community lighting up highly trafficked areas of the communities with purple lights to help raise awareness for Overdose Awareness week the last week of August. In Granite Falls, the City Council approved lighting the Walking Bridge purple for the week, and in Montevideo, the Council approved lighting Artigas Plaza.  The group will participate in both communities by being at the locations with drums, and discussion, to help bring awareness to the Wellbriety Movement.

The group originated when a group of people started discussing the idea at AA meetings. “I went to treatment about four years ago. When I came back I was going to AA very frequently. As much as possible. It was really helping me stay sober and stay on the right path,” says IronHeart. “Native people from the reservation and from around the area not on the reservation started meeting at the AA meetings and one day there were about 11 of us at one meeting. We just kind of had this awakening moment with all of us standing there. A couple of us wanted to do something in a more cultural way. We needed a little more. We needed our traditional songs. We needed our traditional teachings. We needed to talk to our Elders and see what kind of guidance they have for us.” 

The group made the decision to pursue the peer-led community recovery program, and thus Montevideo Wellbriety was founded. “We have Elders from the community come out and talk to us about once a month. We just had someone come out and talk to us about drums and the sacred aspect of drums, and how you would make one, how you would take care of one. It’s about connection to the people. Connection to the ceremonies,” IronHeart says. 

The Montevideo Wellbriety group welcomes everyone, without discrimination on age, race, or gender. “We developed this more peer-based community where we’re not just open to Natives, we’re open to everyone. Our group is split pretty much down the middle with Natives and non-Natives. We’re open to everyone but we follow cultural beliefs so it really appeals to the Natives,” says IronHeart. He cites a quote from Wellbriety book that says, “Time and again, our Elders have said that the 12 steps of AA  are just the same as the principles that our ancestors lived by with only one change. When you place the 12 steps in a circle they come into alignment with the circle teachings that we know from many of our tribal ways. We think of them in a circle and use them a little differently, and then the words will be more familiar to us.” IronHeart also explains the group's philosophies by saying, “The term Wellbriety means to have a balance between your four dimensions of wellbeing. Your physical health, your mental health, your spiritual health, and your community health - all tied into your recovery from drugs and alcohol.”

The group meets every Tuesday or Thursday either at Java River or New Horizons. In addition to the twice-a-week meetings, the group does a number of community events. Recently, the group participated in the Upper Sioux Wicozani Walk. “We all have matching t-shirts, so we went out there and did that as a group to represent support from a local recovery organization,” IronHeart says. Additionally, the group recently held a concert in Redwood Falls with a rap artist named Colicchie. “He’s very well known in the recovery world. He writes a lot of music about recovery and spirituality. That concert last month was really huge for our group, and we had people from other recovery organizations around the state come down for it,” he says. The group also visits the Granite Falls and Montevideo jails to work with participants in recovery. “We try to promote healing and help connect them with the recovery community so that when they get out of jail they have a safe community to go to so they don’t have to go back to hanging out with the old playmates who are still in those negative spaces with their addiction,” IronHeart says.

The group also recently lit the bridge in Granite Falls orange to raise awareness about what is happening with the recovery of the bodies of children at boarding schools around the world.  “We went down there, we brought our drums and sang some songs, and just raised awareness about what was going on, why they were lighting the bridge orange. So that was kind of where this idea of lighting the bridge purple came to me. I was reading on Facebook that for Overdose Awareness  Week, they were trying to get people to light up their communities purple and we had just done that bridge lighting ceremony last month. It was a great turnout, and we had great feedback so we wanted to do something like that again to help with the awareness aspect,” IronHeart says.

The group plans to be slowing down on community events for winter in order to pursue some winter projects such as a Peer Recovery Coach training. “With our early connections with Sober Squad, they put on a recovery coach training. We had this training in Montevideo a few years ago and it was the first one out here. Everyone was so excited about it. Basically, you have your counselors in treatment, and you have your therapists, but you don’t have anyone to walk beside you on your journey of recovery, so that’s what we can do. If you want to go to any meeting, we’ll go with you. If you want to go to a sweat lodge, we can take you. We do these things together. A recovery coach is really just a resource broker after you get out of jail or treatment. We can find you the resources you need to make long-term recovery sustainable in life,” IronHeart says. Currently, Montevideo Wellbriety has four trained Recovery Coaches, but the goal is to host another Recovery Coach Academy to train more recovery coaches locally. “We don’t have an anonymity policy. We are part of the Recovery Out Loud movement which means we will talk about our recovery. I will wear a shirt that says I’m a recovering addict. I do, often. I have a shirt that says Peer Recovery Specialist. On the back it says there is hope, ask me how. We’re very open and out loud about our recovery. We wear our shirts so that if people are struggling, they know they can turn to us. It really helps us reach different sections of the community,” IronHeart says.

IronHeart recalls another passage from the Wellbriety book, noting it’s discussion of how starting to heal yourself leads to healing those around you. “It says first you begin to heal yourself, then you begin to heal your family then you can start to heal the community and that’s really what we’re seeing here. We’re starting to see someone come and within a month or two they’ll have a family member come, and so now our group is actually made up of these little family groups. We’re just starting to see where this has really become a family thing. After it started turning into that is when we started doing these community events. So it’s crazy how it said that in the book - first, you would heal yourself, then you would heal your family, then you would start to heal your community so we’re really on that community stage now. We’re really seeing people dedicated to coming here and healing themselves and they’re really reaping the benefits and doing good things in life. We just want to do things to raise awareness that we’re here and hope to help as many people as we can to find a better way of living,” he says.  For those looking for more information, there is a Facebook page titled Montevideo Wellbriety where meetings and events are posted regularly.