Wellbriety Recovery for Native Americans


Wellbriety – Continuing a Legacy of Resistance … Implementing a Vision for Healing

Wellbriety means to be both sober and well. It’s a word translating a term from the language of the Passamaquoddy Nation of Maine as given by an elder in the mid 1990s.

It describes a natural evolution of the recovery process.

The Wellbriety Movement among Native Americans is a direct descendent of the modern Native sobriety movement that began in the 1950s and continues to change and grow even today.


“I went to a sobriety meeting in Albuquerque, New Mexico in the early 1980s and there was a guy named Harold Belmont there who had a smudge. I was going, ‘What is this? What is this?’ It was controversial because it was very early sobriety for Indian people and there were sober people present. And this man gets up and lights a smudge and says, ‘I think we should pray also in our Indian ways.’ It was the first time I saw our Indian ways and 12 Steps AA start to be linked together. But it still disjolted some people” — Theda Newbreast, Blackfeet Nation (Wellbriety!, 2005).

The Four Laws of Change would become one of the deep roots of the Wellbriety Movement. They are an unseen part of every Wellbriety resource, program or event taking place today.

The Four Laws of Change

  • Change is from within.
  • In order for development to occur it must be preceded by a vision.
  • A great learning must occur.
  • You must create a healing forest.

The Four Laws of Change suggest an inclusive or integral approach to wellness for individuals, families, communities and entire nations.

The Sacred Hoop

A Hoop of 100 Eagle Feathers that would become a key spiritual element of the Wellbriety Movement.

The elders spiritually placed into the Hoop four sacred gifts or intentions to be carried by the Hoop wherever it went on its journey of healing in both Native and non-Native communities alike.

These are the four Gifts of the Sacred Hoop:

  • Eastern Direction: Healing
  • Southern Direction: Hope
  • Western Direction: Unity
  • Northern Direction: The Power to Forgive the Unforgivable

Two of the most popular Wellbriety Movement programs offered to American Indian and Alaska Native communities today are the 7 Trainings and the Coalition Building series. The 7 Trainings are designed to appeal to seven different interest groups in a community.

In each case the core Medicine Wheel and the 12-Step program is modified to meet the needs of these seven diverse groups so there is something for the whole community.

There are seven simultaneous tracks from which a participant in the 7 Trainings event may choose:

  • Firestarters (The Medicine Wheel and 12 Steps) for Men
  • Firestarters (The Medicine Wheel and 12 Steps) for Women
  • Firestarters (The Medicine Wheel and 12 Steps) for Al-Anon
  • Sons of Tradition (Addictions prevention and wellness for Native American boys ages 13 to 17)
  • Daughters of Tradition I & II (Addictions prevention and wellness for Native American girls ages 8 to 17)
  • Strengthening our Families (for family healing)
  • Children of alcoholics (for youth whose families are affected by alcohol abuse)

Information about any of the Wellbriety Movement resources and programs mentioned in the article, and others not described, may be obtained from the White Bison, Inc. website www.whitebison.org

This is an extract of an article. The full article can be read at Counselor,The Magazine for Addiction Professionals, August 2006, v.7, n.4, pp.12-17.

See also;


6 thoughts on “Wellbriety Recovery for Native Americans

  1. Pingback: I feel so disconnected. What can I do? | soulsnet

  2. Courage to Change Addiction Recovery Ranch in southeastern Colorado adheres to the Native American Wellbriety Program through the White Bison Council. There is a Sweat Lodge every two weeks and they hold Talking Circles twice a week. C2C is a ranch type setting on the plains of Colorado with the spirits of the great outdoors to guide you in your recovery. http://www.c2cranches.org

  3. I was unaware of this model, but it makes much more sense then applying standard Western developed models onto Native Americans. It is impotant that Native Americans develop their own methods for dealing with modern societal issues.


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