MARCO ISLAND — Tribal members, young and old, from all reservations converged in Marco Island from July 21-26 for the Seminole Wellness Conference, a Tribalwide health-based event that provides participants with tools to make better choices for healthier futures.
The conference, now in its 20th year, educated, counseled and informed participants of the resources available within the Tribe to help them make positive changes in their lives.
“We are trying to get people into a different routine,” said Helene Buster, conference organizer and Family Services director. “We hope it’s a different routine that gets you out of that rut that makes you feel like, ‘I’m not worth a flip.’’’
Guest speakers from all over the U.S., including motivational speaker Lester Brown, conference favorite Denise Alley and Sonya McKee gave personal testimonies and expert advice to inspire participants.
Most topics discussed related to addiction and recovery, but other topics included bullying, domestic violence, co-dependency, gambling addictions and adapting to change.
Seminoles in Recovery sponsored the event along with other Tribal departments, including Family Services, Tribal Historic Preservation Office, Allied Health and Recreation.
Tribal member Wesley Garcia has attended the conference for the last few years. He said the conference helped him become aware of some personal traits he would like to improve.
“I learned something about myself and sometimes you don’t want to learn (bad) things about yourself but if I can learn about it, maybe I can try and correct it,” Garcia said. “That’s what the Wellness Conference provides us. It provides hope.”
Every day at 6 a.m., participants began their day walking along the beach with Health Department staff, followed by breakfast and a day of classes and activities filled with valuable information.
Seventh-year inspirational speaker and director of Corporate Culture for Seminole Gaming Doug Cox spoke about family history to adults.
“I had the privilege to speak on the legacy of the family,” Cox said. “How it was in your family history, it doesn’t have to be in the future. We can change and that’s the whole point of this conference.”
Cox also addressed the 9- to 16-year-olds who participated in separate, more age appropriate activities. His main idea for the youngsters was “the magic of self-esteem.”
Thunderhand Joe, drummer of the Native American rock band Redbone, spoke about the importance of following your dreams. He is known for his onstage energy and songs that celebrate Native American culture.
Youth also took daily fitness classes provided by the Recreation and Fitness departments, ending each afternoon with an outing to the movies, bowling, canoeing or water park.
Even the smallest of them all, the 5- to 8-year-olds had a part in the conference. Mary Baxley, conference volunteer for the past eight years, helped organized the children’s program along with Buster.
“They learn too,” Baxley said. “We have Dental, Fitness, Nutrition, Seminole police, firefighters and Culture come (to talk to youth).”
Cox presented the last lecture of the conference on “sweet freedom,” or “making the right choices moment to moment, day to day to maintain our sobriety, our clean living and our leadership to family.”
Every year, the sobriety countdown serves as the highlight of the conference. Starting from 50 years on down, conference participants stood up to testify their years in recovery and encourage one another to live a drug- and alcohol-free lifestyle. This year participants exceeded more than 700 years combined.
“The bottom line is whether you have one hour of recovery or 25 years it really doesn’t matter,” Buster said. “It boils down to one day at a time. Make yourself important and love yourself.”