New Year's powwow celebrates sobriety

By Alastair Lee Bitsoi
Navajo Times

GALLUP, January 3, 2013

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(Special to the Times – Donovan Quintero)

TOP: Dancers and spectators of the 14th annual NCI New Year's Eve Sobriety Gourd Dance and Powwow participate in a round dance five minutes after midnight on New Year's day in Gallup

SECOND FROM TOP: Grandmother Melda Brown smiles and dances with her three-week-old granddaughter Nyla-Louise Lou Leona Brown from Thoreau, N.M. late Monday night at the 14th annual NCI New Year's Eve Sobriety Gourd Dance and Powwow in Gallup.

THIRD FROM TOP: Southern straight dancer Olin Yazzie from Tuba City, Ariz. dances at the 14th annual NCI New Year's Eve Sobriety Gourd Dance and Powwow on New Year's Eve.

FOURTH FROM TOP: Fancy dancer Durrell Etsitty, 13, from Lake Valley, N.M., dances in the intertribal segment of the 14th annual NCI New Year's Eve Sobriety Gourd Dance and Powwow.

O ne way the Na'Nizhoozhi Center Inc., fights against reducing public intoxication during the New Year is through an annual event called the NCI New Year's Eve Sobriety Gourd Dance and Powwow.

Despite a 25 percent drop in attendance this year, NCI executive director Jay Azua said the 14th annual event, held at Miyamura High, was still a success.

"It's not the dropping of the ball, but it's the largest, single sobriety event that is held in this region," he said.

NCI's gourd dance and powwow has been in existence since 1996, and was organized after the detox center's traditional counselors decided to host a celebration with the family of those in treatment, Azua said.

"This celebration is part of a coming home for some of the clientele," he added. "It's that significant to them."

About 90 percent of NCI's clientele are Navajo, Azua said, and about 40 percent are from Arizona. The detox center, which utilizes traditional Navajo and Western intervention methods to encourage sobriety, serves between 25,000 and 30,000 people annually.

Kevin Foley, NCI's clinical director and president of the powwow committee, said the annual event is a celebration for those in treatment for recovery and deterrent for people in the community.

"We honor them," he said. "Some people have stopped drinking on their own and some have gone through treatment."

Foley also said the gourd dance and powwow is a place where families can come to a safe place to bring in the New Year.

One of those individuals who came out to support the sobriety cause was Lucille Hunch, 19, of Rock Springs, N.M.

Hunch, who dances the northern and southern cloth styles, competed in the "sobriety special" category to honor those suffering from alcohol and substance abuse.

"I came out so I can share time with my family on New Year's Eve and celebrate for my family and friends, who have been sober and to keep it that way," she said.

The loudest cheers from the crowd determined winners of the various dance categories, which included dancers from as far away as Albuquerque, California, South Dakota and Phoenix, among other places.

For the past few years, Leonard Joe, who's been sober the past 18 years after checking into rehab at NCI, has attended the sobriety event.

"It's something that brings everyone together in their right mind, in a holistic kind of way and taking part in being sober," Joe said, explaining that NCI's service to the community is important to reducing public intoxication.

After all, Joe does credit NCI for changing his life.

Had he not checked into NCI and utilized the sweat lodge and other forms of Navajo healing practices, Joe said, who knows where he would be. As he put it, he wouldn't have attained a master's degree in psychology, cofounded Big Brothers and Sisters for area schools or established a veteran's organization called Supportive Services for Veterans/Families.

"It's a really good thing," Joe said about NCI. "I was given the second chance to do better, reset and reach goals."

In an effort to help with NCI's continued operations, which NCI officials say was facing possible closure in February because of lack of funding, last month President Ben Shelly presented the rehabilitation center with $300,000 for direct services.

Grateful for the Navajo Nation's contribution, Azua and Foley both said it's enough to last until February, and assist with the detox and help keep people out of the harsh winter weather.

Késhjéé a wholesome way to ring in the year

By Alastair Lee Bitsoi

Navajo Times

GALLUP - While some decided to ring in the New Year at a bar, house party, or some sort of social involving alcohol, sisters Natalia and Shandiin Reeder were at a Késhjéé' or Navajo Shoe Game ceremony, celebrating the New Year.

Held in conjunction with the 14th Annual NCI New Year's Eve Sobriety Gourd Dance and Powwow, which was at Miyamura High, the Késhjéé' attracted about 100 people, including the Reeder sisters on Monday night at the Na'Nizhoozhi Center, Inc.

The Na'Nizhoozhi Center Inc., or NCI, is a rehabilitation center whose mission is to reduce public intoxication through Western and Navajo intervention methods to clients in the City of Gallup and McKinley County. The shoe game on New Year's Eve is also part of NCI's effort to reduce public intoxication during a time when high numbers of drinkers are out ringing in the New Year.

"The shoe game is an important part of our culture," said Natalia, 27. "Tonight, I just wanted to hang out with my family and learn these songs."

According to Navajo oral history, the Késhjéé' ceremony tells how night and day came, and how natural processes are the laws of the universe.

In accordance with Navajo theology, the first késhjéé was held during primordial creation to settle a dispute between day creatures and night creatures over whether the earth should be in darkness or light.

As the story goes, the two sides - day and night - separated into teams and played késhjéé throughout the night guessing which of four sets of moccasins held a small ball made of yucca root. They kept score with strips of yucca leaf, exactly 102 of them, and played until sunrise. When neither group could claim a victory, it indicated that day and night are both important in the intellectual design of creation.

Natalia's younger sister, Shandiin, who was back home in Tsayatoh for the holidays from school at New Mexico State University, said she was happy about her decision of attending the shoe game ceremony.

"It's a great time to hang out with family instead of going out and drinking," she said, adding, "It's safe."

Both sisters plan on organizing a shoe game ceremony next New Year's Eve to celebrate with their family.

"Just being a part of it you're connected to it," Natalia added. "You do feel good."

Another youngster participating in the shoe game ceremony was 13-year-old Shemar Frank of Breadsprings, N.M.

Frank, who attended the ceremony with his grandfather, Joe Yazzie, won two games and lost one game with the day animals, about an hour before 2013 arrived.

"This is where we come for New Year's," Yazzie said, adding that he chose to attend the NCI shoe game over those being held at Church Rock and Window Rock.

Yazzie said Shemar, who was singing along to a song about the locust, which plays a significant role in the Navajo creation story, was playing in his third overall shoe game.

"I brought him out here to learn the shoe game," Yazzie said. "There's a lot of different songs that they sing about the night and day animals. These young ones are starting to learn."

When asked why he came to the shoe game with his grandfather, Shemar said if he didn't attend he would have been at home doing a lot of nothing.

"I came to learn and have fun," he said, adding that he was learning the patterns of how the yucca ball is hidden in the moccasins by the opposite team.

Janice Yazzie, of Superman Canyon, N.M., who was there to celebrate her New Year with her husband, Frank Yazzie, said it made her feel good knowing youth like the Reeder sisters and Shemar Frank were attendance.

"I'm happy to see them," said the 66 year-old woman. "They can learn our old traditions. They're having fun, too, and staying away from drugs and alcohol, which is nice."

Tribe gives NCI $300,000 to keep doors open

By Bill Donovan

Special to the Times

WINDOW ROCK - The Navajo Nation is coming to the aid of the Na'Nizhoozhi Center, Inc. in Gallup.

The center, which provides a place for thousands of people annually, mostly Navajos, to stay when they are picked up in an intoxicated condition, is facing the possibility of shutting down because of funding cutbacks.

Back in August, Jay Azua, NCI's director, said the program has been suffering ever since the Navajo Nation cut its funding to the program in 2009 because of cutbacks in the federal funding it receives. At one time, the Navajo Nation was giving the program $2 million a year, which made up the bulk of its financing.

Since then, the program has had to reduce its operational expenses to $1.7 million in 2010 and then to $1.4 million this year. Because of this, he said, the program has funding only to last until February and if it doesn't get anymore, it would have to shut down its doors.

Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly said Friday that the Navajo Nation has heard the plea for help and is going to be giving the center $300,000.

He said the timing of the closure concerned him because it was in the middle of the winter and with no place to send people, "many might freeze to death."

He said he talked the matter over with health care officials for the tribe and asked them to search high and low for funds which could be diverted to this project.

Locating funds was hard because of the cutbacks in federal funding in the past and the move of the federal government toward "Obamacare," but tribal program officials were able to locate $300,000 to enable the program to keep its doors open at least until the spring. This would also give NCI program officials time to locate more funding so they could keep their program going permanently.

"I want to stress, however, that this is a one-time grant," Shelly said, pointing out the uncertainty that faces the tribe in the future about federal funding for its programs and the lack of commitment by the federal government to provide funds for these types of programs.

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