Miigwech, Monica


District III says goodbye to a trusted friend

A full house at the Meshakwad Community Center on August 26 clearly showed the impact one person can have on the health of a community.

The monthly District III Sobriety Feast was also a retirement party for Monica Haglund, District III's long-time chemical de- pendency counselor.

Monica was clearly touched by the large crowd brought together by organizers Ron and Rita Garbow and Monica's co-worker Loretta Hansen.

"There's a lot of greatness in this room," said Monica, looking out at the well-wishers, including children, Elders, and all ages in between. "You are all beautiful people. This is the best treatment you're going to find: the people in this room right here."

In addition to the traditional distribution of medallions to those who had achieved sobriety milestones, the evening in- cluded a game that highlighted Monica’s many positive qualities.

The game, organized by Monica’s friend and co-worker Loretta Hansen, had players fill in the blanks to guess some of Monica’s wonderful traits and accomplishments: good listener, friend, support person, hockey grandma, Sober Squad supporter, and Counselor of the Year — an honor Monica received in 2018 from the Minnesota American Indian Institute on Alcohol and Drug Studies.

Many of Monica’s friends shared their thoughts on cards and fabric squares that will be sewn into a commemorative quilt.

Two weeks later, as she packed up her office and put the finishing touches on her career, Monica was still amazed by the event. "I felt very valued and honored," she said. "I guess sometimes what you give, you get back. It's a good lesson: Be kind, and you'll be given kindness. It was a lot more than I expected — the expense, the balloons, the games, the quilt blocks, the letters. I couldn't read them until I was by myself with a box of kleenex."

Monica grew up in Duluth and started her career as an occupational therapist in Moose Lake at the state hospital. Later she became a sign language interpreter, which led to a role in a treatment program for the hearing-impaired. When the state hospital closed, she stayed in the chemical dependency field at Liberalis in Carlton.

When she came to work in Aazhoomog 13 years ago, it felt like she was home — just down the road from where her mother, Ishkwegaabawiikwe (Betty Lee St. John), had grown up. "It meant a lot to me, coming back to where my roots are, where I belong and feel connected," Monica said.

As hard as it is to say goodbye, Monica is ready to do more beadwork and quilting and to spend more time with her three grandchildren (and one on the way).

"It's a tough field, the addiction world, but I have a lot of hope or belief that someday people will make the changes," she said. "I've been very optimistic, and I'm seeing those changes now. We're all in this together to make a better community."

Although she lives in Moose Lake, where she's close to her daughter (and soon another grandchild), Monica told her friends at the party that she won't be a stranger. "When I come to Tuesday sewing or the community meetings — for the free food — and you need a kick in the butt, I'll be here," she joked. "Because that's what I like to do."