For the second year in a row a festival to celebrate sobriety is happening in the Bella Coola Valley at Lobelco Hall and Fair Grounds, Saturday, Aug. 12.
Melinda Mack, of Bella Coola, and her daughter Christine Shayla Mack, of Kamloops, are part of the team organizing the event, which they are calling Soberfest this year.
“When it comes to alcohol, you think of the years of people that have been lost. I feel it’s worse now than it was 30 years ago because of opioids,” Melinda said. “I think it’s so hard for people to talk about sobriety but it’s something to be proud of when you take that step.”
Melinda wanted to acknowledge Marlene King, Vanessa Hans and Rhonda Schooner who originally started Wellbriety.
“Darlene Hall the wellness director for the Nuxalk Nation approached me and asked me if I would assist with Wellbriety and that’s when we changed the name to celebrating sobriety, which is what we called it last year.”
She also said Theresa Schooner from Nunumus has played a big part in organizing the day.
Soberfest is being combined with Nunumus’s presentation of a National Indigenous Day celebration.
Hosting Soberfest is exciting because it is as a sign that the community is moving forward in addressing addictions, Melinda said.
“I see more in the health and wellness department when it comes to healing.”
Sober for 31 years, Melinda credits her six children as her inspiration.
“I was never a big drinker, but when I was pregnant with our sixth child I asked my husband why would we want to be bringing children into this life.”
Her husband quit drinking cold turkey and the two of them have never gone back.
“Addictions stunt your growth,” she said. “I give myself freely to this community and none of that would have happened if I had an addiction.”
Christine said last year’s first Soberfest went really well.
“At the end of the day it was the perfect mixture of cultural events, speakers. local musicians and a comedian. It ended with a band playing so I felt it was an uplifting experience for everyone.”
A day full of activities is planned.
Things will start off at 10:30 a.m. with log rolling, axe throwing, a dunk tank and bouncy castle.
There will be an overdose awareness walk, departing from the hall at 11 a.m. that will proceed to Thorsen Creek and back.
The Overdose Awareness Walk is being organized by Christine who said it is important because the walk will remember and honour people who have been lost to addictions.
“I lost two of my best friends to addictions and we have all been affected. We wanted to do something for the community,” Christine said. “I hope we get a good turnout for that.”
There will be an RCMP escort for the walk and she hopes the Nuxalk Singers will participate.
Christine spoke at the event last year.
“I find losing my best friends to their addictions and being from a small community and being sober myself for five and a half years, nobody would talk about it,” she said. “Having addictions is highly stigmatized.”
She tried to quit drinking three or four times but it was something an elder told her that always stuck with her.
“I was at a healing circle and an elder said to me, ‘so are you going to do the healing or are you going to leave that to your children?’ That really hit me and I always remembered that.”
Two of her sisters and her brother joined her to become sober and embark on their healing journeys, and that has been rewarding, she added.
Becoming sober has resulted in her going back to school to become a psychiatric nurse.
“I know I wouldn’t be where I am at if I did not start my healing journey.”
In her 40s, Christine has five children who she said have a better mom and a role model to look up to now.
“You still have those urges to go drink, but then you have to remember why you chose this path.”
From noon to 1 p.m. the Rita Edgar Drum Group will lead a session, followed by the crowning of the Salmon Queen at 1 to 2 p.m. Contestants this year are Olivia Johnson, Chloe Evans, Emily Henry and Clara Cahoose.
There will also be Lahal games played between 2 and 5 p.m.
Beatrice Love from Treaty 8 Territory is attending the festival to speak and perform.
A Canada’s Got Talent contestant, Love is also a life coach, speaker and believer of growth through music, workshops and storytelling.
Melinda came across Love on Canada’s Got Talent and wondered how down to earth she was.
“I scrolled through Facebook and messaged her and that’s how we connected,” she said of how she invited Love to come to Bella Coola.
Rocker Brady is also attending to speak.
A St’át’imc Nation Lillooet resident, Brady will share his story of addiction and recovery.
He was homeless in Kamloops at one point and “not all there,” he says in an Aspect Films film about his struggles.
In the film he said he cannot force others to go for treatment but he can put the idea out there.
“If I help out one person with my story then I know I’m doing something good.”
Others who will share their talents during the day are Ghostt, Wayne Levesque, Nuxalk Singers, Russ the Muss, Rollah Mack and AKA.
Funding for the day is being provided by the Nuxalk Nation Transition House Society, Emma Johnson, Nuxalk Health and Wellness, Kirsten and Bill Tallio, NAALS, Theresa Brook and Nunumus, Keith Hamilton and crew, Nuxalk College, Lawrence Northeast.
“Evangeline Hanuse and Laverne Snow have also been helping me with letters, etc.,” Melinda said. “The community has really made this possible. If it wasn’t for them we couldn’t have done this.”