It will probably look like just an ordinary camping trip. Maybe larger than most but, to outsiders, the volleyball nets, fun walk/run and bingo, the gathering at Isleta Pueblo today through Sunday will most likely have all the hallmarks of a giant family reunion.

For many going to the 27th annual Indians in Sobriety Campout, it is just that — a yearly reunion with people who understand them best.

Julia M. Dendinger-News-Bulletin photo: Yolanda Abeita and her son, Wayne, 15, proudly hold the eagle staff for the annual Indians in Sobriety Campout. The staff goes to a new host community. This year’s campout is the 27th year and will be held at Isleta Pueblo today through Sunday.

It’s a time to sit and talk with friends who haven’t seen your kids since last year and marvel at how big they’ve gotten. It’s a time to join in talking circles with people who understand just how precious and wonderful sobriety is.

For nearly three decades, the campout has moved from community to community throughout the Southwest, bringing together Native people celebrating a healthy, sober lifestyle.

This year marks the second time the campout has been hosted by Isleta Pueblo, and Yolanda Abeita is extremely proud to be one of the organizers.

A bit more than 20 years ago, Abeita’s husband, her then boyfriend, woke up and decided after a decade of drinking, he was done.

“He decided he was going to stop — cold turkey. He told me I could do what I wanted. He didn’t expect me to stop, too,” Abeita said. “But really, how would that work if I wasn’t there to support him?”

So after being “independent, young and foolish,” they started on the journey to sobriety. Those first three years were tough and eye-opening, Abeita said.

“We were inseparable. We didn’t accept any invitations for social events and just stayed home,” she said. “We lost just about everyone. A lot of friendships, we had to cut off.”

During that time, Abeita said neither of them attended Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, something she didn’t think was necessary for her.

“A few months ago, we went to a convention and I went to some AA meetings there,” she said. “I had made a lot of progress, had come this far, but I learned there were a lot of things I needed to work on, so …”

She shrugs and smiles, comfortable in the knowledge that she doesn’t know it all.

Nine years ago, the Isleta couple married and can mark nearly a quarter century together.

Well into their sobriety, Abeita said a family member began attending the Indians in Sobriety campouts and suggested they go to one of the family-oriented, four-day events.

The organization was formed in Gallup by Margaret Mitchell, a Lakota, after a 1987 nationally broadcast piece portrayed all Indian people in Gallup as drunks, Abeita said.

Mitchell urged a committee be organized by the Indian Health Service in Zuni to fight the bad press. That year, with the backing of the Gallup mayor, 150 people marched down the city’s main street, promoting a sober and healthy lifestyle.

“She really wanted to fight that stereotype and make a statement,” Abeita said. “To start something that promoted sobriety.”

The campout travels around the country after attendees “bid” on an eagle-feather staff. Anyone wishing to host the campout makes a case as to why the staff and event would benefit their community.

Those gathered to hear the “bids” then stand behind the speaker they feel makes the most compelling plea, and the staff is passed to the next organizer.

This is the second time the campout and staff have been to the Isleta Pueblo. The campout was hosted here in 2003 and now returns after a decade of travel to California, Arizona, Colorado and numerous other communities throughout the Southwest.

Each community that hosts the campout, contributes something to the staff, such as an eagle feather.

Abeita said when the staff passed from her family to the next, she cried when she saw its empty spot in her living room.

“It holds such power and energy,” she said. “It lifts you up.”

The three-night campout is full of family activities — talking circles for men, women and teens, sobriety ribbon ceremony and powwow, fun walk/run, bingo, storytelling, hand drum social, raffle and numerous events for youth and families.

While it is not an AA function, AA meetings are held.

A community potluck open to everyone begins at 4 p.m., Saturday, July 27.

“Bring a dish to share,” Abeita said. “After that, there will be the sobriety ribbon ceremony and powwow.”

The different colored ribbons represent various lengths of sobriety — from never having touched alcohol to 24 hours to decades of sobriety.

“It’s a big deal, really heart touching,” she said.

Abeita saw proof of the ceremony’s power and the message at her first campout 10 years ago.

“Three people came and I think they were there by mistake. They brought beer,” Abeita said, grinning.

Those three people remained sober after the campout, she said.

“The event promotes families to be healthy and enjoy themselves,” Abeita said.

Over the years, she has watched children go from in the womb to young adults.

One young man who will be there this year is Abeita’s son, Wayne. He has been going to the campouts since he was 2.

“When I was younger, I thought of it as just a big camping trip,” the 15 year old said. “Then I realized it was a way to help people, that it could affect what was going on in the world.”

As a young child, Wayne promised his parents he would be drug and alcohol free. He has kept that promise and, every year, is given a white ribbon for having never touched alcohol.

Over the years of attending, Abeita said that while many young people attend the campout with their families, there often isn’t much for them to do.

They will sleep during the heat of the day and roam the desert in groups after sunset.

“Sometimes he and his friends will go off until two, three in the morning,” Abeita said. “I’m not really worried. Most of the camps are in pretty remote locations. Where are they going to go? But I asked them, ‘What do you guys do out there?’”

The simple answer was they talk to each other about everything. Abeita said one new thing she is bringing to this year’s campout is a teen talking circle.

“When the call is made for the adults to go to talking circles, the teens will go to theirs,” she said. “This is something we need for our youth. As teens, there are things they just won’t tell their parents. They need their own space.”

Wayne said he is excited to have the teen talking circles.

“It’s important for teens to go along with their families in their sobriety,” Wayne said.

Many of his friends are into drugs and alcohol, Wayne says, but he is there for support.

“It makes me sad, but I talk to them, tell them there are other choices,” he said. “You can have fun and live clean and sober.”

Many of Wayne’s friends have asked if they can go with Abeita and her family to the campout. She will make a trip to the train station to pick up some of his classmates on Thursday.

“Some of his friends have said, ‘I wish my family did that.’ That’s really great to hear,” Abeita said. “But don’t make the mistake that you are your kids’ friend. Living a healthy lifestyle starts with adults.”

Sandwiched between the village of Los Lunas and the city of Albuquerque, Abeita said she has seen influences moving in and out of the pueblo. And they aren’t always good.

“I see a lot of young parents who don’t have the parenting skills they need, who want to be friends with their children and want to be the coolest parents,” she said. “It’s important for children to have adults in their lives they can talk to, go to for advice, but you aren’t their friends — focused on what their needs are, not the needs of their children.”

In looking at her own alcoholism and the substance abuse in her community, Abeita said it is definitely a generational issue. Her grandfather, father and brothers all drank.

“I was the youngest of four, so you look up to all of them. There would be parties at the house and the adults would say, ‘Have one,’” she said.

Abeita said she is hopeful that she will break that cycle with her son.

“I am so thankful that Wayne didn’t see us like that,” she said. “I want him to know what it was like and learn from us. I talk to everybody about this event, about what it is, what it means. I’m not afraid to say I’m sober.”

The campout is sponsored by the Pueblo of Isleta, Valencia County DWI Planning Council and Tiwa Lending.

For information about the campout, call Yolanda Abeita at 712-1896, Jacqueline at 263-7882 or Mike Abeita at 553-8421, or email questions to

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