Stories and emotions were shared throughout the night as many within the Juneau community gathered Saturday to honor and pay respects for those they’ve lost to substance misuse.
The Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska and Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium held a Candlelight Vigil and Memorial Walk at Marine Park Pavilion as a way to remember those loved ones, as well as raise community awareness.
The evening’s ceremony included several guest speakers who have had their own experiences and struggles with recovery. There was also an opportunity provided for community members to share stories about the important people in their lives they had come to remember. David Evenson, who is five years sober, spoke about his personal struggles with addiction and the importance of community and having people feel comfortable with reaching out and asking for help when they need it.
“For me, tonight means coming out tonight to remember those who have passed away of disease and addiction,” Evenson said. “It’s also about gathering together in a community and seeing as a community that we are stronger, kind of like threads on a rope, the thread is not that strong, but if you put them altogether then it becomes a tight rope that doesn’t break and so that’s what I see when we come together as a community and we fight this disease of addiction and the stigma that goes along with it.”
Evenson, who works for Tlingit and Haida Reentry and Recovery program, also serves as a peer support specialist and helps guide people who are recently released from prison or other institutions through their recovery.
Jaclyn Bacani also works for Tlingit and Haida’s Reentry and Recovery program as the recovery coordinator. Bacani served as the evening’s emcee and said she was holding a candle for the night to honor her grandfather. Bacani also spoke about the importance of community and how in most cases people have more in common than they might think.
“I feel honored and humbled to be able to be a part of this and get the community together,” Bacani said. “I feel it’s very important to give recognition to families that have lost loved ones to substance abuse. All of us have gone through similar things and once we recognize that as a community, it will build that bond and chain stronger to help the next person that needs it.”
Immediately following the vigil, the crowd walked to the SEARHC Front Street Clinic where people were given a chance to hang posters and pictures of their loved ones. Flameless candles were also left with the messages at the SEARHC Front Street Clinic window and remained on display for the public in the window facing the alley on Front Street.
Jeni Brown works as a family and community engagement specialist for Community and Behavioral Services under the CBS Healing Center and also helped organize the candlelight vigil. Brown said the event is just one of many planned throughout this month as a way of recognizing Recovery Month.
“I’m a person of long-term recovery and wanted to make the change in the community to where I could say, ‘This is where I messed up at and now I want people to heal from the mess ups that I did.’” Brown said. “After the pandemic, I reached out to a lot of people and expressed the need for us to all come together and recognize Recovery Month by doing a lot of different events. Last week we did the walk for recovery, tonight we did the candlelight vigil, and next Saturday is the bonfire out at the Auke Recreation Area Shelter 5.”