Oneida Nation lights sacred fire to shed light on reservation's heroin epidemic

ONEIDA, Wis. The Oneida Nation is uniting against the heroin and opioid epidemic. A “sacred fire” lit by tribal members this past Sunday at the intersection of Highway 54 and County J will burn for the next month.

Joey Powless keeps the fire in place at the site on Highway 54 and County J in Oneida

The people of the Oneida Nation say the heroin epidemic is devastating.

"This opiate and heroin addiction that we have now is very strong, we've been having deaths through overdoses and we got a lot of overdoses that go on through our reservation," said fire keeper, Joey Powless.

For the Oneida Tribe a fire is a sign of strength. The lighting of the fire coincides with other native communities across the country standing up against drug use.

"This fire really is the strength of us, because you know there's a fire in each of us, and how we take care of that fire means something. We always keep it nice because how you take care of things with that fire is how you take care of things in life," Powless adds.

The fire is not just about raising awareness, the site is a place where those struggling with addiction can seek support and not be judged.

"It doesn't take one person, it takes a whole community and we need to just help get the word out just tell them that they're not alone, tell them that we all got their back. If they want help then they can come to us," said Quanah Pocan, who’s also helping to keep the fire alive.

Each piece of wood that's on the fire represents something different, like unity, compassion and love. Tribal members come to the site to pray and engage in talking circles. The tribe hopes to raise enough money to open a detox center in the future.

"This fire helps us out not just for us native people but all of us around Green Bay, Seymour, DePere, Oneida, the communities just coming together as one," Pocan said.

Powless says the community is welcome to join them Saturday morning for a unity walk around the neighborhood. Oneida nation is asking for assistance in keeping the fire alive, necessities include water, food, wood, and shelter.