Mike Williams Races Toward Recovery
Mike Williams Sr., an Alaska Native political leader and veteran of 15 Iditarods, has mushed to promote sobriety.
He writes about mushing and the Sobriety Movement for Alaska Natives in a new book, Racing Toward Recovery: The Extraordinary Story of Alaska Musher Mike Williams Sr., co-written by journalist Lew Freedman and published by Alaska Northwest Books.
The book will be released in May 2015 but can be preordered on Amazon.com.
Williams, Yu’pik, knows how alcohol can devastate people: each of his brothers succumbed to alcohol-related accidents, incidents, or illnesses. In his book, Williams describes how he recovered from his dependence on alcohol through religion, loved ones, and racing sled dogs.
To Williams, mushing is not as much about racing as it is keeping alive an important part of Alaska Native culture. Since time immemorial, the sled dog has been as important to Alaska Natives as the canoe is to Northwest Coast Native peoples.
“It’s more than competing, it’s our way of life,” Williams told Indian Country Today Media Network. “We’ve hunted and camped with our dogs for thousands of years and we want to continue to keep that culture alive.”
Williams competed in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race 15 times and was once the only Yu’pik musher, a symbol to all Natives around the state. As a competitor, he resolved that to focus attention on one of the greatest threats to the health and future of Alaska Native people, he carried in his dog sled pages of signatures of people who had pledged sobriety. Other Iditarod competitors voted him Most Inspirational Musher three times.
Williams has long worked for the health and well-being of Alaska Natives. He is chief of the Yupiit Nation, a member of the Akiak Tribal Council, a regional vice president of the National Congress of American Indians, and a member of the board of First Stewards, which addresses the impacts of climate change on sustainability. He is working to restore Native hunting and fishing rights, and in 2013 organized a statewide suicide prevention summit.
Freedman is an award-winning journalist who lived in Alaska for 17 years and is the author of numerous books on dog mushing and stories from Alaska, including “Iditarod Adventures.”
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