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A Rehab Center That's "Culturally Sensitive"

The tumble-down boarding house on Third Avenue was rotting in its own grime, but Dede Devine Yazzie took one look and fell in love with it. That was eleven years ago. The daughter of the famous Notre Dame football coach Dan Devine had just arrived in Phoenix to interview for a job as director of Indian Rehabilitation, Inc.

Then in her late twenties, she'd spent five years working on a Chippewa reservation in northern Wisconsin, conquering her own addiction to drugs.

She hoped to help others do the same thing. "My father really liked the image and the limelight," she now says. "But to me, what was important was running a good treatment center."

She took her new job seriously. With the help of her Native American board of directors, she gradually built the annual budget up from $30,000 to $800,000.

And in the eleven years since she's been at the helm, Indian Rehab has become a nationally recognized groundbreaker in Native American substance-abuse treatment. It also offers one of the only residential centers in the United States where Indian women can live with their children while recovering from addictions to drugs and alcohol.

The Phoenix center was lauded in 1987, when the National Institute on Drug Abuse sent an outline of Indian Rehab's "culturally sensitive" treatment program to other rehab centers across the country to help combat the rampant alcoholism among native peoples.

According to national data compiled by Native Americans themselves, alcoholism among Indians is four times higher than it is in the rest of the population. "That's not stereotyping, that's real," Yazzie says.

Starting with its use of the Talking Circle in 1980 and sweat ceremonies a few years later, Indian Rehab has always been a leader in treating substance abuse with Native American rituals. The center doesn't allow peyote use while clients are undergoing residential treatment, says Yazzie, "even though it's a sacrament." However, once the treatment is completed, the center "encourages clients to follow their religion of choice."

Last year, Indian Rehab, which previously only treated Native American men, acquired Guiding Star Lodge on West Portland Street. The lodge is the only place in Arizona where Indian women can live with their children while recovering from severe alcohol and drug addictions.

Yazzie says many urban-Indian women get so beaten down that they are "resigned to the fact that life is a bitch." Only about a dozen women and children live at Guiding Star. Most of the women have turned to alcohol after suffering years of physical or sexual abuse and poverty. The center's staffers try to show the women that the Native American idea of connecting "mind, body and the Creator" is the key to controlling one's life. "You've gotta keep saying it and saying it and saying it," says Joella Scott, an addiction counselor at the center.

Indian Rehab offers residential treatment to a total of about 220 men and women each year. They are referred by their families, hospitals and the courts. "Some people stay here 45 days, others stay sixty, others stay six months to a year and pay rent," Yazzie says.

She adds it's difficult to gauge success with statistics, because the urban-Indian population in Phoenix is so fluid--people regularly shuttle back and forth between the city and the reservations and it's hard to keep track of them. "Our people come for treatment with negative job histories, anger over racism and being put in boarding school, and eighth-grade educations," she says. "They've got to redo their lives.

"This won't change in 45 days. Relapse is inevitable for some. But I look at recovery as a lifetime process. If we get someone who hasn't worked for years then gets a job and keeps it even though he goes back on booze for a while, I still consider it a success."

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Terry Greene