BEMIDJI-An activity-focused recovery group is forming in Bemidji.

Organizers of "Sober Squad - Bemijigamaag" hope to have it formally up and running by summertime. The squad emphasizes "fellowship" activities-bowling nights, get-togethers over pizza, and so on-that can help people stay sober between the regular meetings that mark most recovery groups. Squad leaders said they plan to organize some of those in the near future, too, but, for now, they stick to planning and logistics at their regular Monday night meetings in Bemidji.

It's one chapter among several that have sprung up across Minnesota since 2017, when Colin Cash and Curtis Jackson formed two of the first at about the same time. A Brainerd-based squad sponsored a high-profile "Rising to Recovery" walk last fall, and Mille Lacs squad members marched in a parade in Onamia a few months before that. Other Sober Squad chapters have popped up in Grand Rapids, Fond du Lac, and another is reportedly in the works in Red Lake. Many squad members are American Indian, but organizers said they're open to any and all.

Leading the Bemijigamaag squad are Michael "Mick" Fasthorse, a treatment coordinator for White Earth Nation, and Valerie Cash, a maternal support specialist for the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe's Health Division. (Fasthorse stressed that their jobs are separate from the squad.)

Both are sober themselves-he for four years and she for 11 years-and Fasthorse said he and Cash see newly sober people who leave treatment "on top of the world" but quickly find they don't have a substantial support network.

"They just go back to the same thing and the same friends," Fasthorse said.

Getting sober can sometimes torpedo an addict's social circle, and Jenny Vance, a squad member who's been sober for about 11 months, said it can be tough to stay sober without engaging with other sober people. After she got sober, Vance said, she was always angry-she hated using, but hated being clean.

"I think Bemidji needs more people getting out and being like, 'Hey, sobriety doesn't suck. Sobriety is a lot better than you think it would be,'" Vance said.

The Bemijigamaag squad has a Facebook page where members encourage one another-"you do not have to cover up being an addict in recovery for anyone. Ever," one post reads-organize rides to other recovery meetings and share photos from recent meetups. Other groups have hosted sweat lodges, attended sobriety feasts, gone on tubing excursions, or watched fireworks together, according to staff at the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe.

Fasthorse said the squad aims to bring fun and pride to sobriety.

"You don't have to be ashamed that you're sober," he said.


Theresa Bourke of Forum News Service Contributed to this report.