A year without Sobriety Celebration

Belen Cook at Cordova Jr./Sr. High School for the 2018 Sobriety Celebration. (Nov. 10, 2018) Photo by Emily Mesner/The Cordova Times

The annual Sobriety Celebration and Memorial Potlatch organized by the Native Village of Eyak did not occur this year due to the novel coronavirus pandemic. The Cordova Times sat down with Belen Cook, who coordinated Sobriety Celebration in 1998 and from 2002-2018, to discuss the importance of the event, and the challenges of making it happen.


What does Sobriety Celebration mean to you?

It’s a wonderful time for people to gather and celebrate sobriety. There’s an educational part too: people think sometimes that it’s just for people that are in sobriety, but it’s also to help people to learn more about substance abuse.

How has the event evolved through the years?

When we first started, it was pretty small, just one day. But several individuals decided that it was time to do something with Sobriety Celebration. Robert Henrichs and Mark Hoover got involved and we had a couple of dance groups that came down, and it was well received.

Sobriety Celebration includes both cultural festivities, like these dance performances, and education to help those who are affected in some way by substance abuse. How do these two aspects come together?

Many of our speakers have either worked with individuals with substance abuse, or have family members, or they themselves are recovering from alcohol or drugs. Back in 1998, we came up with the idea of doing a sobriety countdown, and it was very well received: we started out calling people with 40 or 50 years of sobriety down to just a few hours. We were asked to continue doing that — that was one way of acknowledging and supporting individuals in their own sobriety. Throughout the years there have been some dance groups that have said that coming to the Sobriety Celebration and doing the sobriety countdown has helped them stay clean and sober.

Native Village of Eyak has brought in a variety of guest speakers throughout the years. Who was a speaker whose message has especially stuck with you?

I really can’t say, because they all speak about what’s happened either to family members, or from their own recovery. It’s like a pie, and everybody brings a piece to the whole, if that makes sense.

What’s a favorite moment from a past celebration?

For me, one of the most special things is always the dance groups. They bring a lot of energy and happiness to everybody that comes. When we pick them up at the airport, many a time, they’d come singing. When they go back home, Alaska Airlines has welcomed them to sing on the plane — of course, sitting down. That brings a lot of joy to people.

What would you like to say to Tribal members this year, in absence of the celebration?

Stay strong, stay safe and we’ll all be together again.


Addiction resources

In case of emergency, call 911.

Welfare check
If you’re concerned for the safety of a friend, family member or neighbor, you can request a welfare check from the Cordova Police Department by calling 907-424-6100.

Help & Hope online support group
This group run by Cordova Community Medical Center’s Sound Alternatives clinic provides support to friends and family of individuals with addiction. Help & Hope meets from 5:30-6:30 p.m. Tuesdays via Zoom. Anyone wishing to join can obtain login info by calling 907-424-8300.

Alcoholics Anonymous
AA meets 7 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Additional details can be found by calling 907-244-9406 or 907-347-2286.

Native Village of Eyak confidential hotline
907-424-2232
Available 8 a.m.-5 p.m.

Cordova Family Resource Center helpline
907-424-4357
Available 24 hours per day.

Cordova Family Resource Center textline
1-860-407-8001
Available 7 a.m.-11 p.m.