Tribal members collaborate for War on Drugs ◆ By Mike Hiles
Combining the longtime Elders/Youth Walk with the second annual War on Drugs Walk attracted more than 100 participants of all ages to the Soboba Indian Reservation on Saturday, March 25. Organizers Marian Chacon and Linda Resvaloso started planning this collaboration in October.
The 2.8-mile route originated at the old Tribal Hall on Soboba Road. Walkers, and some riders, made their way north on Castile Canyon Road to reach The Oaks for a gathering that included lunch and guest speakers.
Antonia Briones and her four sons wore the commemorative T-shirts provided to all registrants of the walk. Her four-year-old, Samuel Venegas, was waiting to start his third walk as everyone lined up in the parking lot. Mike Madrigal gave a Native American blessing.
"Give us strength for our journey, help us to be good to one another and learn from our elders who have taught us what we know of our people," Madrigal said. "We also pray for those you have delivered back to us from drugs and alcohol and thank you for supporting our community and protecting our young people."
Robert "Bobby" Salgado Sr. organized the first War on Drugs Walk in 2015 and took part in many of the Elders/Youth Walks that have been held the past 10 years. He passed away in March of 2016 and Saturday's walk was dedicated to his memory.
"We want to say thanks for his life and leadership in the community," Madrigal said. "I'm certain he is with our creator and watching over us from above."
Resvaloso said after the first War on Drugs walk, Salgado didn't want it to be a one-time thing.
"He didn't want us to forget it so we are continuing it in his memory," she said. "We are so blessed to have the elders support these causes. We feel there's a need to raise awareness in the community that drugs hit hard."
Some walkers pushed strollers, some rode bicycles or scooters and others played music or just talked to each other as they passed by wildflowers, trees emitting strong orange blossom scents and neighbors waving from their yards.
Soboba's Public Safety and Fire Department personnel were on hand to keep things safe and moving along. There was a shuttle for those that needed to take a break from walking before reaching the destination. In the bed of the pick-up truck that hauled the flatbed trailer of seats was Joseph Dence who was singing and playing the guitar during the trip.
The spiritual musician leads worship at San Jacinto's Lighthouse Christian Church.
Violet Zubia, 11, walked alongside the shuttle that carried her grandparents, Albert and Virginia Duenas. Their three-year-old grandson, Aswut, rode along with them.
"We are here because we support no drugs and we want to do whatever we can to support this program," Virginia said. "We've done the elders and youth walk before. We also walked against diabetes and other causes – we're walkers." Rachel Miranda, who has been friends with Chacon since 1954, joins her for the event every year.
"She would probably walk all the way but I gave up," said Chacon, 81, as she settled into her seat on the shuttle.
Alice Helms enjoyed seeing the wildflowers growing on the hillsides and down in the canyons and recalled when her mother and aunt would fill big tubs with all kinds of flowers to use on Flower Day (May 1) and on Decoration Day/Memorial Day.
Chacon recalled seeing flowers when she hiked the canyons for more than 20 years back in the 1960s and 1970s. Now the area is mostly inaccessible but wild poppies and other flowers are visible from the roads.
Members of the Placencia family, wearing matching red shirts from a recent family reunion, walked as a group that included Gordon and his wife, Juanita.
"We're doing this in support of our kids and elders and to help us get in shape," Juanita said. "We are in training for the San Jacinto Run United 5K on April 29. We are doing the Soboba Trail Race in May and we did the Diamond Valley 5K earlier this month. Doing these as a group helps motivate you."
Nicole Placencia Ward pushed her 10-month-old daughter Mattie along while her husband, father and two other daughters got ahead of her on the road. In fact, Michael Ward and their 13-year-old daughter, ran most of the way and were the first ones to arrive at The Oaks about 30 minutes ahead of the final walkers.
Tekla Diaz was happy to see such a nice turnout for the event.
"It's a good way to get healthy and be aware of fitness and healthy foods," she said. "I like hanging out with the elders. They are very inspiring. They try to get the community involved."
Tables were set up in the shade of large oak trees so guests could rest while waiting for the barbecued meat and side dishes prepared by members of the Soboba Culture Department, including Director Carrie Garcia and members of the canyon clearing team.
About 15 Soboba Tribal T.A.N.F. program youth, ages 12 to 19, were there to help where needed, providing bottled water and serving food to elders.
"We came out to help the community and be with the elders," said administrative assistant, Aurelia Mendoza. "We offer workshops and classes on different topics, like staying off drugs. Our older kids mentor our younger ones."
A basket of cards was available for guests to write the name of any family member or friend that is in prison. Cards were attached to a tree and a blessing was said for all prisoners.
Speaker Jane Cazabat, a longstanding student of diabetes classes through Riverside-San Bernardino County Indian Health, talked about her family's struggles with a relative who had a substance abuse problem and many health issues.
"He passed away at age 53. He was such a great guy but substances can take its toll," said Cazabat, of Menifee. "There is so much that is positive out there now. There are different ways to show support."
Stacia Cozart spoke about how the walk was important to her since she fought her own war on drugs and alcohol for years. She said it took a Native American treatment center in South Dakota to help her attain sobriety, which she has celebrated for seven and one-half years.
"I needed something to bring me back to earth – back to my culture," said Cozart, of Soboba. "This has been a long walk for me and my family. My goal is to help young women on the reservation not have to go through what I did. I think our traditions will help them."