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Aliyah Chavez
Indian Country Today

A new online trend is uplifting Indian Country by encouraging people to share their photos and stories of sobriety.

Over the weekend and through the week, people in the Social Distance Powwow group on Facebook began posting.

Kel Castel, Mathias Colomb Cree Nation, posted that he is celebrating 12 years of sobriety while living in Los Angeles, California. He is a registered nurse currently working through the pandemic.

Rose Looking, Assinaboine/Sioux, is a domestic violence case manager at a shelter in Seattle, Washington. She is celebrating 41 years of sobriety, she shared in her post.

The Social Distance Powwow is an online powwow with more than 184,000 members. It was created in March after powwows began to announce cancellations due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Since then, the group has “taken on a life of its own,” co-founder Whitney Rencountre, Crow Creek Sioux Tribe, told Indian Country Today.

In this photo taken Saturday, April 4, 2020, moderator Whitney Rencountre, a Crow Creek Dakota tribal member, is seen on a screen from Rapid City, S.D., as he talks with a dancer during a live-streamed powwow. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

The latest trend, Rencountre assumes, came after he hosted a show on May 9 called “song, spirituality and sobriety.”

“We hosted the show because we wanted to share with new graduates and youth to encourage them to start the new chapter in their lives drug- and alcohol-free,” Rencountre said.

Even though the trend hasn’t included too many clips of songs or dance, it has included a lot of culture. Many people have said culture was an important part of their decision to be sober.

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One of those people is Scott Sam, Puyallup, who is a traditional salmon smoker. He is celebrating 10 years of sobriety, a feat he attributes to returning to his cultural teachings.

“I changed my life by using my salmon smoking cultures,” Sam said. 

Sam estimates that there are 25 salmon smokers left out of over 400 fishermen in the state of Washington. Four years ago, he says he began learning the craft from an 83-year-old Nisqually elder.

Sam says he was encouraged to post his photo in the group to celebrate the tradition of salmon smoking, and to inspire others who may be struggling.

Within seven hours of sharing his post, it has received more than 4,000 likes and 400 comments. The reaction from others, he says, has been amazing.

The reaction from the co-founders of the group has been positive too.

“There are a huge number of people across Indian Country who are drug- and alcohol-free,” Rencountre said. “This page is letting people know that positivity like this exists. It is creating hope.”

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Aliyah Chavez, Kewa Pueblo, is a reporter-producer at Indian Country Today's Phoenix Bureau. Follow her on Twitter: @aliyahjchavez or email her at

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