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Annual Wellness Conference revitalizes mind, body, soul

Wellness Conference03MARCO ISLAND — For 22 years, Seminoles in Recovery’s Wellness Conference has provided the community with camaraderie and tools to make better choices for healthier lives, a fact Helene Buster hopes will make a 23rd year possible.

“I hope people see the fellowship of Tribal members and that there is sobriety in their community,” said Buster, Family Services Department director. “For those who are part of it, they know the program works because they keep coming back.”

Buster, who boasts 26 years of sobriety, coordinates the Seminoles in Recovery program and said she will continue to hold meetings and events to keep the community united. Nearly 400 attended the conference July 19-23 at Hilton Marco Island Beach Resort and Spa on Marco Island.

Wellness Conference sessions imparted information from professionals and those in recovery. Topics included “Relapse, It Doesn’t Have to Happen,” “Gratitude – Indian Style,” Forgiveness: Let Go and Move On” and “Health, Mind & Body.” Fitness on the beach kept the body moving, including morning walks before sunrise that drew daily crowds of 100.

Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and personal testimonies rounded out the schedule.

Alex Buck, of Brighton Reservation, never believed he was an addict until he attended the Seminoles in Recovery convention in March. This was his first time at the Wellness Conference.

“Hearing from the people who walked the walk has more of an impact than reading it in a book,” Buck said. “I never knew so many Seminoles in recovery. It blows me away how much fun I have being sober.”

Certified addiction counselor Sonya McKee discussed causes of relapse, including keeping secrets, euphoric recall, and people, places and things.

She said addiction is dangerously powerful.

“‘I don’t need help’ is the last thing my husband said to me. He was found dead with a needle in his arm,” said McKee, who has presented at the conference for nine years. “We have a disease we cannot fight alone. When we convince ourselves we can do it by ourselves, we’re a goner.”

Advice came from presenters and from personal testimonies of those in recovery. Denise Alley, a Native American storyteller and motivational speaker, told attendees that the Wellness Conference perpetuates the love they have in their hearts for family and community.

During personal testimony sessions, dozens shared their stories. Some said they were grateful to hear other Tribal members talk about their addictions.

“To me, that’s what this whole thing is about, so our people can get together and share their stories,” Buster said.

Programs geared specifically for youth conveyed the same lessons adults learned and kept kids active.

Family Services’ Fred Mullins led the program for ages 9 to 16. In one activity, children learned to braid, which demonstrated the power of three, he said.

“One may be easily overpowered, two can defend themselves but a cord of three cannot be broken,” he said. “When we pull together as a team, we can accomplish great things.”

The metaphor emphasized not walking alone through life, that everyone needs a strong team behind them, said presenter Douglas Cox. At the end of the session, each child wrote a list of trusted people to be on their life team.

“If you are in the fifth grade, the drug guys are coming,” Cox said. “You need a life team to face that stuff.”

Conference sessions concluded with the annual sobriety countdown. By the end, more than 100 people stood in descending order of time sober, starting with 41 years clean and ending with 18 days. They represented 641 years of sobriety.

“We have to be intertwined together to make it,” Buster said. “You young guys need to see who is in recovery so they can help you. Pick up the phone; these are your tribal friends who are here to help you.”

Lila Osceola, clean for 16 months, is grateful to have found a new way of living through the program.

“I built a relationship and a family here,” said Osceola, of Hollywood. “Now I sponsor women so I give back what was freely given to me. It’s changed me a lot; I have my kids back and am able to be a parent. It’s made me into a responsible, loving, caring woman.”

President Mitchell Cypress has attended every Wellness Conference and said he finds it useful for the Tribe. He said he would like to see it continue, adding that the conference “doesn’t need to be at a fancy place as long as you deliver the message.”

Buster believes the Wellness Conference will continue for a 23rd year even if Seminoles in Recovery has to raise its own funds.

“We just have to figure it out,” she said. “Maybe one day when people look for help they will remember something they picked up here. Whatever comes, we’ll do what we have to, band together and do something. Everyone wants a No. 23.”

Beverly Bidney
Beverly Bidney has been a reporter and photographer for The Seminole Tribune since 2012. During her career, she has worked at various newspapers around the country including the Muskogee Phoenix in Oklahoma, Miami Herald, Associated Press, USA Today and other publications nationwide. A NAJA award winning journalist, she has covered just about everything over the years and is an advocate for a strong press. Contact her at