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PUBLISHED: 4:12 PM on Wednesday, October 4, 2006
SEARHC to raise Kootéeyaa Project totem pole
SITKA - The SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium will be raising the Kootéeyaa Project Wellbriety totem pole during a ceremony Oct. 14 in front of the SEARHC Community Health Services building in Sitka. The community is invited to attend the raising ceremony for the totem pole, which will have the Tlingit name Yei éek kwa néix (which means, "you are going to get well").

The festivities will start at 11 a.m. as people gather at a large tent set up in front of the SEARHC Community Health Services building. At noon, dozens of people will carry the pole from the covered shelter where Tlingit master carver Wayne Price has been working on the pole since April to where it will stand in front of the Community Health Services building. The pole will be raised at approximately 4 p.m., after some final pieces are attached to the totem. The pole-raising ceremony will continue at about 5-5:30 p.m. at the Hames Physical Education Center at Sheldon Jackson College, with Alaska Native dance groups and comments from tribal elders. A dinner featuring traditional foods will be served as part of the ceremony at Sheldon Jackson College. Tables will be available for tribal members and clan leaders wishing to display their at.?ow regalia.

"The raising of the Kootéeyaa pole has tremendous significance," said Mark Gorman, Vice President of SEARHC Community Health Services. "It is SEARHC's first totem pole and the first one to be raised on Japonski Island in modern times. The Kootéeyaa pole will serve as a beacon and symbol of hope, health and healing for all who come into contact with it."

The Kootéeyaa Project totem represents the Native journey to wellness, the SEARHC substance abuse and prevention treatment programs, and the process of transformation to and the continuing journey of "Wellbriety." Wellbriety is part of a national movement that uses a Native journey to wellness - one that links physical, mental, spiritual and emotional health - as part of its process of healing the total person. Representatives from White Bison, the group that fostered the national Wellbriety movement will be on hand with their sacred hoop, the first time the sacred hoop has been in Alaska.

"Wellbriety Kootéeyaa means healing, hope, unity and forgiveness for Tlingit people and anyone who is working on the healing of mind, body and spirit," said Kootéeyaa Project chairwoman Roberta Kitka, a drug and alcohol treatment specialist at SEARHC's Gunaanast? Bill Brady Healing Center and Déilee H?t Safe Harbor House.

During the carving process, groups of about 10 community members each formed several circles of healing. Each healing circle met to discuss an aspect of Wellbriety, then each person in the circle got to make his or her mark on the pole. Some of the topics discussed in the circles of healing included alcohol and substance abuse, domestic violence, mental illness, suicide, the methamphetamine epidemic, multi-generational trauma, hepatitis C, HIV/AIDS, cancer, nicotine dependency, homelessness, Veterans issues, eating disorders and diabetes.

The Kootéeyaa Project's mission statement is "to promote and demonstrate the natural partnership between health and Alaskan cultures through the embodiment of wellness, community collaboration and traditional values." The Kootéeyaa Project received funding from the J.M. Murdock Charitable Trust.

For more information about the Kootéeyaa Project and the pole-raising ceremony, contact Roberta Kitka at (907) 966-8603 or by e-mail at roberta.kitka@searhc.org. Kootéeyaa Project coordinator James Diffin can be reached at (907) 966-8879 or by e-mail at james.diffin@searhc.org.


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