Drug and alcohol addiction is an epidemic that has hit native communities particularly hard. This week of Minnesota native news, a native-led sobriety group receives recognition for its peer recovery work.
Sober Squad is a native-led recovery group with a simple mission statement: To empower and support individuals in recovery to build healthier communities. Colin Cash of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe is a founding member of sober squad, he explains what inspired him to start his work.
“2016 was a particularly bad year. I think 73,000 people died that year, from overdose deaths of opiates. In particular, Native communities seem to be hit hardest by those disparities in those numbers statistically,” he said
“2016, Mille Lacs was second in the state per capita for 100,000 people have overdose deaths. And so it was just a really ugly, trying time in the community here,” said Cash.
While early in his recovery in 2016, Colin began actively promoting recovery and sharing resources using social media. By 2017, Colin met Gary Brancheaud of the Red Lake Nation, at a community sobriety feast. With no formal plan and a desire to help people, Colin and Gary started working in the Mille Lacs community.
“Colin was at that time was in the halfway house. He had about a year of sobriety, almost a year of sobriety. And he was going on his year I met this guy, I met a few other guys and he’s a really positive guy and I wanted to be around that. Colin, at that time, had started a Wellbriety meeting at the halfway house. And we started participating in that meeting. And we kept doing that. And we kept getting people to meetings, kept picking people up, and we kept attending these sobriety feasts… till it came to a point where we decided that we were going to try to do something more. And we decided we wanted to get a van to get people more people to meetings…and then we sat down with a handful of us. We came up with a name: let’s call ourselves Sober Squad,” said Branchaud.
As Colin and Gary continued their work, the community of recovery around them grew; native and non-native people alike were coming to their meetings and offering resources to one another through social media and group chats. Colin explains that T-shirts were really the tipping point to gathering support in their work.
“So we started going to all these events and bringing people and we would all put on our little Mille Lacs band t-shirts, that said “Sober Squad”… they were red, they stood out. And you would recognize a group of red shirts that said Sober Squad on the back to all these different recovery events. We are going to like these massive events like there was the wild rice roundup, we went up to the opiate summit, we would go to these recovery walks” said Cash.
“… sobriety feasts, different districts. And yeah, and we just kept doing that.
Then we kept on social media” added Branchaud.
This week, Colin and Gary are accepting an award on behalf of Sober Squad for their work. The Minnesota Association of Resources for Recovery and Chemical Health, also known as MARRCH, is an organization that represents more than 75 agencies and 2000 individuals working in various behavioral health positions in Minnesota. MARRCH strives to raise awareness about addiction and the power of recovery. Amy Dellwo was a Government Affairs Committee co-chair and the president-elect for MARRCH. She explains why she thought sober squad deserves this year’s March award for peer recovery in Minnesota.
“In terms of their vision and their mission, it was truly a grassroots development. And they also partnered with Minnesota Recovery Connection, and in that they’ve been training peer support specialists. I think that they’ve trained like 60 people in peer recovery support, which is phenomenal. They’ve also spread this to other states and I just felt like they really needed to be acknowledged and honored for the work they’ve been doing,” said Dellwo.
Colin Cash and Gary Brancheaud will accept the peer recovery award for Sober Squad, but they want to make it clear that they are not the ‘leaders’ of Sober Squad.
If you’re interested in finding out more about Sober Squad or starting your own chapter, search for sober squad on Facebook or other social media.
Emma Needham reporting for Minnesota Native News
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