INDIAN TOWNSHIP, Maine — Sometimes gifts come in small packages. Other times, like Friday night, they come in very large packages wearing size 19 shoes.
Dozens of Passamaquoddy Tribe families gathered in the reservation’s community building to hear Levi Horn, a 6-foot, 7-inch, 315-pound guard with the Chicago Bears talk about drug and alcohol abuse and perseverance.
Horn’s appearance was part of an effort by Passamaquoddy Gov. Chief Joseph Socabasin and his council to provide positive role models for the reservation’s 200-plus children under age 18.
“One hundred percent of our children here have been affected in some fashion by drug and alcohol abuse,” Socabasin said Friday night. Socabasin’s own father, who died when the chief was just 8 years old, was an alcoholic, he said. “You can go to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting here on the reservation and find at least 60 people — and those are the ones that are recovering.”
Horn, who is of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe, is from Spokane, Wash. Horn signed a two-year contract with the Chicago Bears just before players were locked out by NFL owners this year. He was raised by his mother and said his father was an alcoholic.
“When I was younger, I promised myself and the Creator that I would give back as much as I got,” Horn said. “I may not be the best speaker, but I tell it from the heart.”
Socabasin said that most of the tribe’s money for alcohol and drug abuse is used for treatment. “We recognize that is important,” Socabasin said, “but we really want to begin focusing on prevention. Levi’s speaking to the children is a small part of that.”
“Our goal is to create hope for our children,” Socabasin said.
In today’s economy, Indian Township is the “bottom of the bottom,” Socabasin said. “Our unemployment rate is between 50 and 60 percent.” In many communities, if there are no jobs, families will just move on, he said. But tribal members won’t move off the reservation and leave their generational homes.
Another key initiative will begin July 6 when every reservation teenager between 13 and 18 will be employed by the tribe.
“We are first teaching them how to show up for a job interview, how to fill out a job application, how to present themselves,” Socabasin said. The kids will then work all summer — and get paid — at the health center, the police and warden departments, housing, tribal government office and spearheading an initiative to spruce up the community.
For some of these teenagers, it will mean they are the only breadwinner in the family.
“My goal is to turn this around,” Socabasin said.
“Our children can identify with where Levi comes from,” Socabasin said. “I believe our kids with athletic or academic ability see that this level of success is what can happen, no matter where you live.”
“It could be baseball, hockey, football or books,” Horn said. “The message is the same: Attach yourself to something and follow that passion.”
Horn told the children, “Keep learning. Learn from the people around you. Learn from your mistakes.”