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Three Rivers treatment facility Betty Ford for Native Americans
Three Rivers Lodge staff and residents play host to the annual summer powwow at the treatment facility in Manteca. The circle dance in the picture was taken at the annual Fourth of July Powwow. - photo by ROSE ALBANO RISSO

For Barry Beaver, the sweat lodge at Three Rivers in Manteca was part of his daily purification and prayer rituals.

A Choctaw, the Oklahoma native was one of the early clients at the alcohol- and drug-treatment facility for Native Americans on North Union Road who took advantage of the sweat lodge on a daily basis.

The small cave-like and domed primitive-looking structure covered by black tarp is still a staple at the roughly four-acre property located between Lathrop Road and French Camp Road. It remains popular today among Three Rivers residents – the term used to describe the treatment-program participants – according to Ramona Valadez, the facility’s executive director for the last 21 years.

While the sweat lodge is central to most Native American cultures, and it occupies a prominent place at Three Rivers, its use as part of the treatment program is not compulsory, Valadez said. But it’s there for those who, like the late Beaver Barry, want to utilize the prayerful purification ritual inside the hot enclosed environment as part of their treatment process.

Established nearly four decades ago, Three Rivers is the Betty Ford rehab center for those who are of Native American ancestry who are admitted into the program free of charge.

“As long as they are descendants (of a Native American tribe) and they can prove it,” Valadez said.

The proof is in the form of a card that indentifies them as such. “We all carry a card” that shows their ancestry and membership to a tribe, explained Valadez. And while the lodge is widely known as the host of the perennially popular Fourth of July Powwow celebration, “we are first and foremost a treatment center,” she said.

“We get up to 200 clients a year,” but the number fluctuates at different times, she added.

The treatment process is conducted in three phases. The first phase is 90 days of primary care. The second phase is another 90 days of after-care. The third and final phase is getting a job and/or going to school.

During the first and second phase of treatment, the residents stay at the North Union Road property where the powwow is held every year.

“So they can stay here for six months prior to Sober Living Environment, or SLE,” said Valadez describing the next step that some rehabilitation programs call half-way houses.

If the clients make progress in their treatment process, they “graduate” to the third phase, which is moving to the SLE home where they can stay for up to two years. Valadez would only say that this SLE house is located in downtown Manteca.

During the in-house treatment phases of the program, the residents take part in group sessions, one-on-one counseling, AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) and NA (Narcotics Anonymous) meetings. They also have to go to the gym an “exercise for relaxation,” Valadez said.

The participants also attend stress management and anger management classes. Included in the treatment process is using the spiritual sweat lodge, but it’s entirely optional, she pointed out.

 Three Rivers has a total of 10 paid people on staff including the executive director and an office receptionist. The others include counselors, a cook, a bookkeeper, and an intake officer.

Millionaires Tax among program’s funding sources

Money used to run the Three Rivers Lodge treatment facility comes from various federal, state, and local sources. It includes the so-called Millionaires Tax, or Proposition 63. Three Rivers has a contract with the San Joaquin Mental Health Department. Valadez said its rehabilitation program is part of the county’s Proposition 63 Mental Health Services Act spending plan.

“The plan works with ethnic and underserved people. They choose five underserved (groups), and Native American is one of those five,” explained Valadez.

The contract is renewable every year.

Prop. 63 is a tax that affects the wealthiest 0.1 percent of California taxpayers. That translates to approximately 30,000 taxpayers who earn more than $1 million a year. Taxes collected from this source is expected to help transform, expand, and revolutionize California’s public mental health system while focusing on promoting recovery-oriented programs such as the one being offered by Three Rivers.

Annual 4th of July powwow helps in treatment process

The powwow is very much a part of the Native American tradition, and that’s one of the reasons Three Rivers holds it every Fourth of July, Valadez said.

“Powwow is very important to Native American people,” she said.

In fact, the clients or residents in the rehabilitation program help put it together, she said. Red Hawk Willey and Michael John, for example, made sure all vehicles coming into the facility during the three-day powwow over the weekend were accounted for at the entrance to the property.

“It’s their way of sharing their culture to the community,” said Valadez.

The powwow is open not only to the different tribes throughout California and all over the United States as well as Canada, but also to non-Native Americans. The summer celebration also fosters friendships with members of the various tribes from all over.

As Monica Jacome, 18, of the Kumeyaay tribe from Mesa Grande in Southern California put it, “I like our culture, staying active in it, and meeting new friends.”

Added her sister, Cheyenne, “I love the families, the good feeling and the get-together.”

The Jacome family, like many others who come to the powwow every year, attends different powwows held at various venues just about every weekend during the summer.