Addiction doesn’t discriminate. Anyone working with people who have fallen into the vicious clutches of the opioid and heroin epidemic sweeping through the state (and country) they know that it takes people from all walks of life. Anyone with a family member, friend, co-worker, or acquaintance fighting this horrible addiction understands fully the feeling of losing someone.
About a year and a half ago feelings of loss ripped through the community of the Oneida Nation in the Green Bay area. A youth whom almost everyone knew died tragically of an overdose sending a shockwave of emotion through area residents and prompting community leaders to form a group called Enough is Enough to combat the drug addiction that caused this tragedy.
“How we got started was sixteen months ago we had a well-known young man in the community who died of an overdose,” Yukwatistay Vice President Frank Vandehei tells FoxValley365. “He was culturally aware of himself and that hit people hard because he wasn’t a ‘junky’. We decided then that we’d had enough. We had community meetings and decided to light a sacred fire in our community and we found a location in Central Oneida. What we did is we lit a fire on September 15 and let it burn for the remainder of the year. That’s when we formed a group called Enough is Enough and while we had the fire burning we walked through all of the community in Oneida and hit eighteen different housing locations and basically let them know we had enough. If you’re dealing, we’re not going to tolerate it.”
Enough was enough. Armed with focus and the support of the community, a nonprofit called Yukwatsistay was formed. The fire the community burned by the highway near uptown Oneida went on nonstop until winter, day and night. The fire represents the spirit that is within each one of us. That’s what the name Yukwatsistay stands for.
Now, Vandehei said, it was time to move on from the stigma and silence those who suffer from drug addiction live with. They needed to bring awareness and healing to the community. Most of all, they needed to kindle a fire inside of people that would light their way through addiction.
“After February, we decided that people were talking about it and we didn’t want to just focus on the problem, we want to focus on the solution,” he says. “So that’s how we came up with the Yukwatsistay name to rebuild that spirit and fire inside people because oftentimes, when someone is addicted, that fire is out. We’re trying to focus on the solution now.”
Working with the Oneida Nation, they were able to find a place to have a sober location. With Green Bay being littered with bars and lacking in community spaces that don’t necessarily involve sports, Vandehei says it was important for them to have a spot where people could come and be clean.
They wound up finding an old building that used to be owned by a well-to-do person that had a huge garage. People donated desks, refrigerators, pool tables, televisions, children’s books and toys.
At Yukwatsistay, they have Narcotics Anonymous and Meth Anonymous meetings. They are working on hosting an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting as well. The meetings are open to anyone who wants to participate.
Yukwatsistay also maintains an active Facebook group offering support and daily wisdom.
“Every Friday we have a fire outside,” Vandehei said. “We don’t discriminate. We don’t care what color you are. Addiction doesn’t discriminate. We don’t care about your sexual orientation or anything like that. So basically anyone who wants to come in, they can come in whenever they want. We don’t work with probation or parole or the police. We want people to be able to come in here and talk without worrying about what they say. People feel very open here. We wanted that friendly, homey feel. I think we nailed it.”
Yukwatsistay has been serving about 30 people per month and the community’s interest continues to rise. Volunteers are streaming in as well.
Yukwatsistay is having a fundraiser Wednesday, February 20 at the Parish Hall, 2936 Freedom Road in Oneida. They will be having a chili and soup sale. The funds they raise will allow them to help addicts get into a sober living house with the first month’s rent paid.
Yukwatsistay does all of its own fundraising and has not been the recipient of grants or government funding of any kind.
“We don’t take funds from anyone, that way we don’t have to answer to anyone,” Vandehei says. “As long as it doesn’t come with strings attached, we’re willing to do it. This isn’t about us. We just want to help people.”