White Bison Inc. founder wins prize

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Colorado Springs, Colorado (AP) 11-09

 Don Coyhis, Founder
of White Bison Inc

A Colorado Springs group that helps Native Americans overcome alcoholism, drug abuse and other health issues has won a $100,000 prize from a San Francisco think tank.

White Bison Inc. won the Purpose Prize from Civic Ventures. The prize recognizes innovators and initiatives solving community problems.

White Bison’s founder, Don Coyhis, says he’ll use the money to expand the nonprofit group he founded in 1988 and launch an institute to promote wellness – or what he calls “Wellbriety” – among the nation’s 564 tribes. Coyhis, 66, marked 31 years of sobriety in August. He named his organization after an image of a white bison he saw while fasting in the Rampart Range two decades ago. It inspired him to use Indian culture to help Native Americans overcome addiction.

“This funding will accelerate the healing, matching tradition and technology will create a powerful force. I’m pretty pumped,” Coyhis told The Gazette of Colorado Springs.

Coyhis grew up in an alcoholic household on a Mohican reservation in Wisconsin. He left a job as a senior manager at Digital Equipment Corp. in Colorado Springs to create an indigenous way to address addiction, obesity, domestic violence, suicide, divorce and other issues.

Coyhis employs a 12-step program similar to that used by Alcoholics Anonymous. It incorporates cultural elements, including elders’ teachings, medicine wheel, group drumming circles, songs and healing ceremonies. All tribal members, from elders to children, are involved in the healing process.

“The reason we’re in this situation is because our culture was taken away,” he said. “When I regained my culture, I realized I was not ashamed to be a Native, but proud.”

Alexandra Cespedes Kent is director of The Purpose Prize. She cited Coyhis’ trailblazing approach to address the needs of Native Americans.

“His organization has trained over 2,000 individuals to implement Wellbriety principles in their own communities,” Kent said. “We saw The Purpose Prize as an investment in what Don is going to do next.”