Twenty-three years ago, the then managing editor at the Cordova Times, Soren Wuerth, gave one of his reporters an assignment — to cover the first Native Village of Eyak’s Sobriety Celebration and Memorial Potlatch.
“Go talk to Belen Cook,” Wuerth said. “Speak with her. Speak with NVE’s Tribal Council. They’ll help you out.”
Cook is NVE’s Sobriety Celebration coordinator. Year after year, she brings people together from all corners of Alaska, to celebrate and talk about their sobriety, and how they live their lives drug and alcohol-free.
The 23rd Annual NVE Sobriety Celebration and Memorial Potlatch theme is Love, Peace and Seal Grease.
Cook said the suggestions for this year’s theme were submitted all the way from Yakutat, but no one has come forward to claim the $50 prize for coming up with the name.
“This is the first time since sobriety celebration started that the theme has come from somewhere else other than Cordova. The four entries came from the sobriety celebration’s evaluations, but no names were included with the suggestions. I tried to find out,” Cook said.
So far, it remains a mystery.
With just two weeks to go, Cook is putting in long hours, along with dedicated NVE staff, colleagues and community volunteers who are just as excited as she is for the celebration.
A highlight for many are the Native dance groups who perform throughout the three-day event.
Walking through the doors of Cordova High School during the performances, people can feel the drums’ deep reverberations thumping against their chests, as the drummers seem to pound in time to the crowd’s heartbeats.
Graceful dancers weave stories with every step and their birdlike calls, hoots and cries are mesmerizing.
It is an experience not to be missed.
“This year we have the Ke’ ex’ Kwaan Dancers, from Kake, the Yees Ku Oo Dancers, from Juneau, the Mt. St. Elias Dancers, from Yakutat, the Tatitlek Dancers, the Cordova Ikumat Native Dancers and the Kodiak Alutiiq Dancers, from Kodiak Island,” Cook said.
Kake magistrate Mike Jackson is the keynote speaker. Others who will speak on sobriety are Rep. Louise Stutes, R- Kodiak; Arnold Olsen, of Tucson, AZ; Wilson Justin, from the Copper River area; and Cmdr. James Jarnac of the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Sycamore.
“Arnold Brower, Jr., is arriving from Barrow. Brandon Johnson, from Juneau, (originally from Yakutat), also dances with the Mt. Saint Elias Dancers. Lydia Olsen, related to the Olsen families in Cordova, is arriving from Kodiak,” Cook said.
NVE held a competition to design the 2016 theme logo.
Cordovan Casea Peterson won the NVE competition to design the 2016 theme logo, and received the $250 prize for her tribal design, which is printed on soft, blue, long-sleeved tee shirts, which will be available at the celebration.
Schedules are still in the draft stages, but will be distributed throughout the community and at local businesses when finalized.
Jerry O’Brien, a director of the Eyak Corp., said the Veterans’ Memorial Dedication and Blessing is set for 3 p.m. on Veterans Day, Nov. 11, at the monument in the South Fill.
The ceremony will kick-off the Sobriety Celebration weekend.
“This is the first veterans’ monument in Prince William Sound! Whittier is working on one – but Cordova beat them,” O’Brien said.
Father Tom Killeen, of St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, will perform the blessing.
“As a director on the Eyak Corp., my team and I have been working to accomplish this monument for the past couple years,” O’Brien said. “As a Marine Corps veteran, myself, I am humbled to have this opportunity to honor those who have served, are serving and who have given their all. They may be gone, but they definitely should never be forgotten.
“The Eyak Corp. would like to thank all men and women in uniform, past, present and future. God bless you and thank you,” he said.
The Memorial Potlatch, scheduled for the evening of Nov. 12, at Cordova High School, usually draws to the feast a crowd of 150 to 200 hungry people.
Cook said she loves being a part of the Sobriety Celebration.
“The community support here is a huge highlight for me,” Cook said.
“Without that, it would be harder to do. For example, Orca Adventure Lodge and Trident Seafood are donating housing for the dance groups, and so many businesses and individuals donate to the sobriety celebrations year after year. Organizations and individuals statewide donate to and attend. It’s the people coming together from all over to support individuals and celebrate sobriety,” Cook said. “We just want to encourage everyone to come out, have fun and celebrate! It’s going to be powerful.”
Eyak Corp.’s Veterans Monument Blessing Ceremony Agenda
Nov. 11th at the Monument, 3 p.m.
3 p.m. – 3:05 p.m. Posting Colors, U.S. Coast Guard
3:05 p.m. – 3:10 p.m. Opening Announcement / Greetings — Martin Parsons
3:10 p.m. – 3:15 p.m. Contributor Acknowledgements — Jerry O’Brien
3:15 p.m. – 3:20 p.m. VFW Director Speech — VFW Director
3:20 p.m. – 3:25 p.m. Drum Group — As provided by NVE
3:25 p.m. – 3:30 p.m. Father Tom’s Blessing — Father Tom Killeen
3:30 p.m. – 3:35 p.m. Cordova City Manager or Mayor — City Representative
3:35 p.m. – 3:40 p.m. Retiring Colors — U.S. Coast Guard
3:40 p.m. – 3:45 p.m. Closing – Thank You — Jerry O’Brien