St. Joseph’s Indian School Students Observe Sobriety Celebration

Posted on: April 24, 2023

Nearly every spring for the past 27 years, students and staff at St. Joseph’s Indian School walk for sobriety in April, starting on campus and splitting into the four directions sacred to Native Americans. In addition to the health benefits of walking, to “walk the Red Path” in Native American spirituality means living in healthy spiritual, physical, mental and emotional balance.

Last spring, Mother Nature put the kibosh on the walk, and this spring, she made an encore performance. But the snow and wind didn’t put an end to the event. The annual observance began at 4 p.m. with a talk by Andrew Lepkowski, acting supervisory special agent with the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Fort Thompson, S.D.

“All of you are loved and have people who care for you and don’t want you on drugs. It would be best if you didn’t start at all. Once you start, it’s hard to stop,” Lepkowski urged. His talk covered the causes and effects of drug use and detailed the severe problems caused by alcohol, vaping and methamphetamine. Students listened intently and then peppered him with questions about his bulletproof vest and his job.

Students wore T-shirts designed by eighth-grade student Secret Red Bear that said, “A person’s past doesn’t define their future.” Despite the canceled walk, they gathered for dinner as a student body in the Dining Hall following the speech.

The April observance is one of several yearly events created by St. Joseph’s Indian School’s Substance Abuse Prevention Committee to show students how to enjoy life without drugs and alcohol. Substance Prevention and Residential Support Associate Chris Blasius leads this committee.

“Native Americans are disproportionately affected by substance abuse compared to other ethnic groups, and almost all children here have been affected by substance abuse at some point in their young lives. If not within their immediate families, they’ve seen the devastating effects of drugs and alcohol in their extended families and communities,” said Blasius. “St. Joseph’s Indian School emphasizes prevention as a critical component of helping students become healthy adults.”