The Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community O’odham Piipaash Fatherhood and Healthy Relationships Program, Life Enhancement and Resource Network welcomed Community members to the third annual Men and Women’s Conference held August 28-30 at the Talking Stick Resort.
In 2008, a small group of men under the direction of the Fatherhood Program organized the first annual Men’s Gathering. Since then, the event has grown into a full three-day conference with the inclusion of all Native men and women.
“We are excited to bring our Native communities together to attend premiere workshops to build partnerships and share ideas that can strengthen our Native families,” said Fatherhood and Family Resources Specialist Kevin Poleyumptewa in his welcome in the conference brochure.
“Across Indian Country we are plagued with the same issues of drugs, alcohol, domestic violence, gangs, child abuse and neglect. We cannot continue to ignore and refuse to talk about these issues in our communities, and, more importantly, within our homes. These issues cannot be resolved if their existence is not acknowledged. It is through their connectedness, which our ancestors understood, that we will be able to help our children and families become healthier and be more successful.”
Powerful Speakers, Powerful Stories
On the second day of the conference, four Community-member males who have had life-changing experiences and a Native woman who was a victim of domestic violence shared their experiences during the “Inspire and Empower” panel: Tony Ringlero, Wade Hayes, Michael Reyes, Eric Schurz and Navajo Nation member Marschelle James.
Ringlero talked about his struggle after being diagnosed with diabetes at age 24. As a young man, he was physically active, playing football and being a weightlifter, but as he got older and started eating more, he developed diabetes. When he was diagnosed, Ringlero was told he already had end-stage kidney disease. Because of the diabetes, his toe and eventually his foot was amputated, and by May 1997 both of his legs were amputated.
“It really didn’t hit home till I lost both legs, when I realized that ‘boy I was in trouble’ when I was stuck in a wheelchair,” said Ringlero. “It was hard. I was always the one to bring the groceries in; it was hard to see my wife bring in the groceries, have to open the door for me, help me get in the car, and do the things that I wasn’t able to do. That was hard to watch, to see my wife do everything for me when I was the one that was always the provider.”
Ringlero became depressed during the seven years after his amputations. He wasn’t working, and he started smoking cigarettes, three packs a day. He went to smoke one day and realized he had lost all feeling in his hand, which had to be amputated too. The doctor told him that his smoking was one of the factors that contributed to his amputation. So he quit smoking, and after several years of dialysis treatment he decided to think about his life again.
“A friend started visiting me and he reminded me of spirituality,” said Ringlero. “I was thinking many times to just give up. I had a lot of friends who wouldn’t go on dialysis; I thought I would also just give up and let nature take its course. But then my stepson started having children, and I wanted to live longer and be a part of the Community again. I went back to school and earned my bachelor’s degree, and I started working with higher education.”
Now Ringlero works in the higher education department for the Community.
Wade Hayes, the next speaker on the panel, encouraged everyone to realize that they have the power to change themselves for the better. Hayes started experimenting with drugs at age 8; by the time he was 14, he was addicted to alcohol and had started living the gang life. This was an effect of having no structure, love, guidance or discipline from a father. Wade got out of prison a year and a half ago; he believes the Lord has given him a second chance.
Hayes joined the Fatherhood group while in jail; the group opened his eyes that he needed to be there for his children, to be their preacher, protector and provider.
“Encourage your children. They need love and patience; they need guidance,” said Hayes.
While in prison, Hayes started taking college classes, earning 12 college credits. He was accepted into the Community’s Apprenticeship Program and earned 18 credits from GateWay Community College. He currently works with the Public Works Department and attends Scottsdale Community College to earn his associate’s degree.
“It all can be done,” said Hayes.
Michael Reyes talked about his experience of gang activity and heading down a violent path after being incarcerated as a teen for a short while. He went to school and started playing football. After striving on the football field, and with a daughter on the way, Reyes decided to make a change. He changed his ways and started working, and he currently is pursuing a career as an amateur boxer.
Eric Schurz told his story of growing up with two deaf parents, and how their divorce triggered a change in behavior that would lead him toward gangs, drugs and alcohol.
“Every weekend my dad would have parties. At a young age me and my cousins would steal beer and go get drunk in the field, and that’s when I started becoming an alcoholic,” said Schurz. “While living in the city with my mom, I started hanging out with these drug dealers. I started getting kicked out of all the schools in Glendale. She kicked me out and I moved back to the reservation with my dad, and I started to sell drugs out here. I was all about who could be with the most girls, who can stay high or drunk the longest—that was the game it was; I did that for many years.”
When he turned 18, Schurz got his first felony. Even though he knew he was on the run from that, he started taking card-dealing classes with the goal of getting into casino management. He graduated from that, and both Gila River and Ft. McDowell wanted to hire him, but they couldn’t because he had a felony and active warrant. He was discouraged and started to go back to his old ways.
He was incarcerated and got involved with the Fatherhood Program; it taught him to step up his game and teach his children and be there for them.
“I had to utilize all the services that the Community had to offer and gain the tools that I need to be a better person,” said Schurz. “Use those tools and services, because they are there.”
Marschelle James talked about her experience with domestic violence and shared tips for identifying the signs of abuse.
The three-day conference featured a number of workshops on how to achieve healthy lifestyles and families, gangs in Indian Country, living with diabetes, domestic violence, the impact of methamphetamine in our Community, how to talk to your teens, parenting and more.
Single father Michael Washington, Jr. enjoyed attending the conference and learning new things that would help him be a good father. “I strongly encourage Community members to come to the conference next year to gather valuable information, especially if you have children,” he said.
Participants were provided a catered lunch by the Talking Stick Resort with entertainment by Acoustic O’odham Vaila by Ron Carlos, a performance by the Senior Steppers, and a traditional-attire fashion show. On Thursday, August 30, the conference held a Cultural Exchange for the attendees and their families.