Pathways of Recovery: The Wellbriety Movement


Wellbriety Movement meetings are held at Recovery Is Happening’s Rochester center on Thursdays, beginning with a Smudge Ceremony at 6:30 and meeting following at 7pm.

Our Peer Recovery Support Specialist, Maria, describes the meetings as a “safe place for misfits.” She says, “Wellbriety is especially for people of all religious, ethnic, and cultural backgrounds who feel they don’t fit in to AA or NA, for the ‘odd ones.’” The Wellbriety Movement creates the opportunity for individuals, families, communities and nations to live sober and balanced lives; healthy lives that are balanced emotionally, mentally, physically, and spiritually.

Don Coyhis and Richard Simonelli describe the Wellbriety Movement in these ways:

“Non-Native recovery approaches often look at addiction as an individual disease, ignoring the social, political, or economic roots of addiction. The indigenous experience adds a dimension of acknowledging sociopolitical causes without removing an individual’s need to do the hard work it takes to heal. This is new, culturally specific thinking that can also add to the field of mainstream recovery knowledge…

Change is from within… [that] means that we must have an internal desire to make changes in our lives. We must make a conscious effort to change our intent, our choices, and our behaviours. We need to examine and change our feelings and assumptions about who we are as spouses, parents, family members, and community members…

…What is this new term, “Wellbriety”? It means to be both sober and well. It is a translation into English of a word from the language of the Passamaquoddy nation of Maine given by an Elder in the mid-1990s (Simonelli, Summer 1995).

It means achieving sobriety and abstinence from substance abuse and misuse without stopping there. It means going beyond “clean and sober” by entering a journey of healing and balance – mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually.

For many Native Americans, it also means recovering culturally. Return to the culture is a vision embraced by many American Indians as integral with addictions recovery (Coyhis, 2000), (Tundra Drums, 2007). It signifies a desire to live through the best attributes of traditional Native cultures, while standing firmly on the ground of contemporary life.”

While Wellbriety is for everyone, the community of Native people continues growing stronger, guided by the Elders, as more social connections are made between Indigenous people who are living in recovery and those who are seeking it.

As it is with all recovery support programs, growing connections within and throughout recovery communities, both Native and non-Native, is an essential component of the Wellbriety movement. White Bison says it well, “Giving back to your own community is an important part of belonging. Healing occurs at the individual, family, community, and nation levels. Community involvement or learning through service to others, is a way for those in recovery and for youth to develop confidence, leadership skills, and most importantly, to develop a sense of connectedness to others. Those who reach out to others find out that they can learn from other people and that they have something to share with other people.”