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Annual event uses traditions to commit to sobriety

DIGHTON, Mass. - The southeastern region of Massachusetts will be the setting of an educational event for the prevention of drug addiction and alcoholism June 14 and 15.

''We like to keep things simple,'' said Don Manidoogekek, Ojibwa and committee chairman for the Red Road Sixth Annual American Indian Sobriety Pow Wow. ''One out of five families is affected by alcoholism; while I was in training [as a registered nurse], I was told that education is the key to prevention.''

Manidoogekek is managing an event that will educate as well as assuage the five senses in a natural, parklike setting of a historic town, with storytellers, traditional dancers, traditional drums, a staking ceremony, an evening 12-step meeting and a Father's Day breakfast. Jennifer Lee, an independent researcher and educator, will display cultural materials of the Northeast woodlands that she has recreated using original methods, symbology, purpose and spirit, such as clay pottery once used for cooking and birch bark baskets once used for gathering.

Located at the Dighton Town Hall fields, main highways serve the area so that any resident of Rhode Island, Connecticut, Massachusetts or Cape Cod could attend the free weekend. Camping accommodations will also be available.

According to the Marin Institute, 25 - 40 percent of all patients in U.S. general hospital beds are being treated for complications due to alcohol-related problems. In addition, the institute has found that annual health care expenditures in the U.S. for such problems amount to $22.5 billion. Underage use of alcohol costs the country $52.8 billion in such tragedies as traffic crashes, violent crime, suicide and other related consequences.

The institute claims there is another $114.2 billion in costs for other drug problems and $137 billion for the costs of smoking.

Columbia University studies found that for every dollar spent on rehabilitation, only 4 cents is spent on prevention.

''Alcoholism affects all people, so all races are welcome; this is not just an Indian disease,'' Manidoogekek said.

He scored a coup this year by signing one of the most effective storytellers in the nation, who has toured both the U.S. and Europe and won national and state awards.

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James Gillen ''Catfish Jim,'' of American Indian and Celtic origin - a storyteller for 30 years, a licensed addiction counselor in Rhode Island, and founder of Tales from a Small Planet - will tell traditional stories from around the world using flutes, whistles and percussion.

Gillen has also developed an experimental program using music for those in recovery.

People may watch or participate in a staking ceremony which will ''help participants commit to a year's cycle of sobriety and service.''

Upwards of 20 vendors will be available to explain and sell their products, from natural soaps to one-of-a-kind jewelry.

''In the past, camaraderie among all the people at this event has been an end result of the common desire for non-dependency on drugs and alcohol,'' said Manidoogek, who is also the diabetes educator at the North American Indian Center of Boston.

Manidoogekek grew up near the Sault Ste. Marie Reservation, on Sugar Island in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. His father was from Massachusetts, and the family was also raised there. Today, he adds to the cultural circles and Red Road in both parents' original home areas.

''There are a lot of benefits of being sober,'' Manidoogekek said.

For more information, call (508) 880-6887.

Donna Laurent Caruso is a freelance writer and can be reached at